In the United States, the state government appoints a Notary Public—or simply a Notary— to serve as an unbiased witness during the signing of important, sometimes life-changing documents of private citizens. Notaries hold an official position of integrity and responsibility, tasked with deterring fraud during official notarial acts, also known as notarizations.
What are a Notary’s Duties?
The primary job of a Notary is to verify the identity of the signers of important documents. To do this, the Notary usually examines an ID that has a photo and signature, such as driver’s licenses, military IDs, and passports.
Some states also require the Notary to evaluate signers for their willingness to sign the document and their awareness of its contents. Since important transactions like real estate transactions, transfers of ownership, and establishment of prenuptial agreements require notarized signatures there’s plenty of room for coercion of vulnerable individuals, such as elders, and signings by people who are not competent to do so. That’s why Notaries are encouraged to pull the signer aside to make sure they are under no duress or intimidation and that they understand the consequences of signing the document. These steps reinforce the credibility and legitimacy of the notarial act.
In some transactions, the Notary also puts the signer under oath. The Notary explains that the signer moves forward with this process knowing that the information contained in the document is true and correct under penalty of perjury. [This sentence needs to be clearer, but I don’t have a good suggestion.]
Once the vetting and certifying processes are complete, the Notary seals the document with an inked stamp or crimped embosser, making the notarial act official. The document is now notarized. [There are other factors that may affect whether it is legally binding.]
Keep in mind that a notarization doesn’t signify the accuracy or legality of a document. Unless the Notary is also a lawyer, they cannot give legal advice. Signers—not Notaries—must know and understand the contents of the document before they sign.
Why are Notarizations Needed?
Scammers will use any means necessary to obtain what they want, including forging documents. Notaries act as gatekeepers to protect the public and prevent fraud. In a society where business dealings often occur between strangers, a notarized document creates a more trustworthy environment where people can interact with greater confidence.
A Notary’s promise to remain impartial forms the foundation of why the public trusts notarizations. Notaries must never perform notarial acts for transactions in which they have a personal interest, as this could corrupt their screening tasks. Impartiality also means that Notaries
must never refuse to serve a person based on a protected status such as race, religion, nationality, and other immutable characteristics, which may depend on laws of the state in which the notarization takes place. They should only refuse a person if they cannot verify the signer’s identity, willingness, or general competence.
States require notarized signatures on many documents before they become legally binding. However, not all documents need to be notarized. Some examples of documents that often require a notarization include:
- Property deeds
- Powers of attorney
- College degrees
How Do U.S. Notaries Vary from Those in Different Countries?
In some countries, Notaries are high-ranking public officials, attorneys, or judges capable of providing legal advice and drafting legal documents. In Hispanic countries, the word Notario Publico describes a person of this position.
A Notary Public works in a different capacity in the United States. This may be confusing for immigrants who approach Notaries for help preparing or filing their immigration papers. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) prohibits this, unless the Notary is also an attorney or “accredited representative” of the U.S. Justice Department.
Only a few immigration forms need to be notarized, the most common of which is the Affidavit of Support (I-134). Notaries in the United States may notarize immigration forms, but they should be very clear about the services they cannot offer, which includes any notario services. Violators can be fined or jailed for the unauthorized practice of the law.
How Do You Become a Notary?
The process varies from state to state, but in general, here’s how to become a Notary:
- Meet your state’s eligibility requirements, which may include being at least 18 years old, residing in the state and country legally, and being able to read and write in English.
- Fill out and submit an application.
- Pay the filing fee.
- Receive training (if your state requires it).
- Pass a state-administered exam (if your state requires it).
- Have your fingerprints taken and complete a background check (if your state requires it).
- Take your oath of office.
- Receive your commission certificate and Notary ID.
- Get a surety bond (if your state requires it).
- File your commission paperwork and bond, if applicable, with a Notary regulating official.
- Purchase your official notary stamp and journal.
- Download the Veritable Data Solutions app to improve your fraud protection efforts.
Veritable Data Solutions is a new tool changing the way Notaries prevent fraud. It uses blockchain technology to empower Notaries and improve the usefulness and dependability of professional notary seals. With this tool, Notaries can better fulfill their role as gatekeepers, protecting against fraud in life-changing transactions.