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Common Questions about Public Notaries

What is a Notary?

Notaries are publicly commissioned officials, meaning that they are expected to follow written rules without the exercise of significant personal discretion. It is the foremost duty of a Notary to screen the signers for their identity, their willingness to sign without duress or intimidation, and their awareness of the general import of the document. Some notarizations also require the Notary to put the signer under an oath declaring under penalty of perjury that the information contained in a document is true and correct.

What does a notary public notarize

A notary public notarizes any document in which an originator needs to ensure the integrity of the signer. A notary public verifies the identity of the signer, and that they are signing knowingly and willingly. This process helps deter the fraudulent execution of documents.

How does a notary verify the identity of the signer?

A notary will ask a signer for a document such as a driver’s license or government-issued identification card that includes a photograph, signature and some information describing the person.

Can a Notary Public prepare or assist in the preparation of any documents?

No, a notary public can only witness the signing of the documents, not assist, or prepare any documents. To assist or prepare documents would be an unlawful practice of law. This keeps the notary’s position as an impartial witness to the signing

Can I be refused a notarization?

A notary public may refuse to perform a notarization if he or she cannot be certain of a prospective signer’s identity, willingness, or understanding of what is happening at that moment. In addition, a notary may not notarize a document in which he or she has a financial interest.

Can a notary certify a copy of a document?

State laws may vary, but in general, no. For vital records documents such as birth certificates and marriage certificates, the requester should visit the local agency that holds these documents, such as a local county clerk. There are some limited instances when a notary may certify a copy, but it is best to check with the notary of your state.

What about immigration paperwork. Can a notary public prepare or notarize immigration papers?

A notary may notarize papers those that require notarization such as the Affidavit of Support, but they may not prepare or file another person’s immigration papers unless he or she is an attorney or a US DOJ accredited representative. (acknowledgment to the National Notary Association for content on this page)

What a Notary is Not

Unlike Notaries in foreign countries, a U.S. Notary Public is not an attorney, judge or high-ranking official. A U.S. Notary is not the same as a Notario Public and these differences can be confusing for immigrants when they approach Notaries in this country. Notaries in the United States should be very clear about what they can or cannot do to serve immigrants the right way and steer clear of Notario issues.

Types of Notarizations

There are several different types of notarizing. Here is what happens with each one.

  • Signature witnessing is the most common notarization. The notary certifies that you are who you claim to be and that they witnessed you signing the document.
  • Acknowledgment is used for documents that convey ownership of assets such as property deeds, powers of attorney, or trusts. It requires you to appear in person and declare (acknowledge) that the existing signature on the document is yours, that you intended to sign it, and that you agree with the provisions of the document.
  • Copy certification is where the notary makes a copy of an original document and certifies that the copy is true, exact, and complete. This could be done for documents such as college degrees or transcripts, passports, and driver’s licenses.
  • Jurat is performed on affidavits, depositions, and other types of evidentiary documents. This requires you to sign the document and then swear or affirm that the statements in the document are true.