A notary public is a state official appointed by state government to witness the signing of important documents, administer oaths and affirmations, certify copies of certain documents, and in some states write affidavits, depositions, and protests. The most important purpose of the notary public is to make sure that the person who signed the document is properly identified and that there is a permanent record of the information pertinent to the signing in the notary journal. Please keep in mind that state laws differ and that not all notarizations in all states require identification.
Why are documents notarized and what are some common documents
that would be notarized?
Documents are notarized to deter fraud and to ensure they are properly executed. An impartial witness (the Notary) identifies signers to screen out impostors and to make sure they have entered into agreements knowingly and willingly. Loan documents including deeds, affidavits, contracts, powers of attorney are very common documents needing notarization.
Can I become a notary if I have a felony or misdemeanor?
Regarding misdemeanors, it depends on the nature of the crime and how the state notary division looks at it. Generally, crimes involving dishonesty, fraud, or moral turpitude would disqualify someone from being a notary public. All states bar those with felonies from becoming a notary public.
How long is a notary term and can I renew my notary commission after my term is over?
In most states, a notary public term is four or six years, however, each state varies. All states allow for commission renewal however, some states may require you to take a class, exam, or complete paperwork and submit it to the state.
What are the steps to becoming a notary?
There is an application; sometimes mandatory schooling; some states have an online exam, others have no exam. Most states require the notary to take an oath of office that is filed with the county clerk where their commission is based; a notary bond is required in most states; then you would receive your commission document or be informed that it was prepared. Obtaining a notary stamp is the last step: some states require a written authorization certificate while others allow you to purchase one before you even filed your application.
What is errors and omissions insurance?
It is usually not required by law in most states, but prudent to have some E&O Insurance to protect yourself from lawsuits due to honest mistakes. Note that if you did something fraudulent, you are still personally liable even with Errors and Omissions Insurance.
What fees do I charge?
Most states have a maximum fee. Check your state's notary division website or web pages to verify. Other states have a fixed fee that you must charge without giving discounts, etc. Other states have a set fee for certain types of notarizations but not for others. In such a case, the notary would have to guess what to charge. It might be advisable to charge a similar fee to what is prescribed for other similar notary acts.
Can a notary notarize if the signer is not present?
No, the signer must personally appear before the notary public. Some states allow a Proof of Execution where another person can appear before the notary and swear that a third party signed a document.
Can a notary notarize if the signer doesn't have identification?
State laws vary on this point. Many states allow the notary to "personally know" the signer and notarize them without identification. Generally, a signer should have valid government issued identification such as a current driver's license, state or military ID, or passport. Some states allow credible witnesses to sign the notary journal and identify the signer.
Can a social security card, credit card, or marriage license constitute positive identification?
No. In most states, a proper identification should be a picture ID with a signature, physical description, and expiration date. A credit card with a picture does not meet all of those criteria, nor do the other choices.
Can I notarize documents for family members?
Most state laws do not expressly prohibit notarizing for a relative. However, Notaries who do so in many instances will violate statutes prohibiting a direct beneficial interest. For example, if a Notary is asked to witness his wife's signature on a loan document for the purchase of a home they will share, he will directlybenefit from the transaction and should disqualify himself. The likelihood of a direct beneficial interest is usually greater with immediate family members -- spouse, mother, father, son, daughter, sister or brother --than with non-immediate, such as in-laws, cousins, nieces, nephews, aunts and uncles. In many instances, a Notary will have no beneficial interest in notarizing for a relative and will not be prevented by law from doing so. However, to avoid later questioning of the Notary's impartiality, as well as accusations of undue influence, it is always safest for a signer to find a Notary who is not related.
Who can be a credible witness?
An uninvolved person (someone not mentioned in the document and not a family member). Neighbors and friends are commonly used.
What does the notary do when they move to a new state?
They have to terminate their commission in the original state, and may apply to become a notary in the new states
Can another person use the notary's seal?
Never!!! Only the notary whose name is on the commission and seal may notarize using that commission.
If a notary is notarizing two documents for the same signer, how many journal entries are necessary?
One journal entry signed by the signer is necessary for EACH notarized signature. Getting thumb-prints in journal entries is required in some states for deeds involving real property. It is prudent to take a thumb-print in any case since it deters fraud and cannot be forged.
Can a notary public notarize foreign language documents?
Most states will allow a notary to notarize documents written in a language other than English providing that the notary section is in English. The notary, however, must be able to communicate with the signer without a translator.
Can a notary notarize for an elderly person who cannot sign their own name?
There is a signature by mark or by "X" procedure allowed in many states. This requires two subscribing or signing witnesses to be present, sign the journal, and each witness writes part of the signers name on either side of the X.
Can I notarize a document with blanks in it?
You should either have the blanks filled in or crossed out. A document with blanks in it invites the content of the document to be changed after it's signed which would be a liability for a notary public.
What are some characteristics of the notary journal?
It should be bound and sequential and have areas for the date, time, type of
notarization, type of document, name and address of the signer, type of identification provided, additional notes, signature of the signer, fee, and thumb-print of the signer. Not all of these fields are required in all states, but they are all important.
How long must I keep my notary journal?
You must keep your journal(s) during the entire period for which you are a notary public. Some states require that when an individual ceases to be a notary for any reason, (including resignation, death, revocation etc.) the notary or the notary's personal representative shall deliver, by certified mail or other means providing a receipt, to the County Clerk in the county in which the notary was commissioned, the notary's journal and other records.
Where should a notary keep his or her seal and journal?
Many states require the seal and current journal in use to be kept under lock and key. Even if your state doesn't require this, it is prudent to keep that information locked up as the journal has legal significance as it is a record of the notarization of hundreds of documents and as the seal could be used by a fraudulent person.
Can a notary offer legal advice or prepare legal documents for notarization?
The notary is not allowed to give legal advice and choosing the type of notarization would constitute legal advice. A Notary is forbidden from preparing legal documents or acting as a legal advisor unless he or she is also an attorney. Violators can be prosecuted for the unauthorized practice of law, so a Notary cannot answer your legal questions or provide advice about your particular document.
Does the notary have to resign their commission when leaving the company that paid for their commission?
No. They can keep their commission as long as its valid. Please consult your state notary website on this matter as each state has different policies on many matters. The notary must always be in control of their seal and journal and in many states they must be kept under lock and key with the notary being the only one with the key.
What do I do if there is no room for the seal?
Either try to fit it in or seal it over some of the text. Do NOT affix you seal over a signature or notarial wording or you void the notarization. You could also attach a loose certificate.
Can a notary refuse to serve people?
Only if the Notary is uncertain of a signers identity, willingness, mental awareness, or has cause to suspect fraud. Notaries may not refuse service on the basis of race, religion, nationality, lifestyle, or because the person is not a client or customer.
Where can I report unethical or unprofessional notaries?
Any wrongdoing or illegal activity should be reported to law enforcement and the appropriate Notary-regulating state official (typically the secretary of state, governor, lieutenant governor or attorney general).
What is a mobile notary?
A mobile notary is a notary who travels to the client. There is no legal distinction between a notary and a mobile notary as the government has no rules regarding mobile notaries and no paperwork necessary to become one providing you are a notary public in your state. Mobile notaries generally charge a travel fee on top of notary fees.
What travel fees can I charge?
There are a handful of states that regulate travel fees which can seriously affect your income as a mobile notary. However, most states allow the notary to charge whatever they like as a travel fee. Other states require the notary to agree with the customer either before engaging in travel or before affixing the notary seal what the travel fee would be which would be prudent in any case. Arizona, Connecticut, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Utah, and Washington all have restrictions as to what travel fee a mobile notary can charge.
Are there training courses offered for notaries?
In addition to many excellent publications, many companies offer training courses that can be scheduled in person, on-line or through video purchase.