Notary -- Frequently asked questions

By WORLDLawDirect  [February 1st, 2011]

Contents

  • What is a Notary Public?
  • Why are documents notarized?
  • May any document be notarized?
  • Is notarization required by law?
  • How does a Notary Identify a signer?
  • Does notarization mean that a document is "true" or "legal"?
  • What will I need for my document to be notarized?
  • May a Notary give legal advice or draft legal documents?
  • May a Notary refuse to serve people?
  • How does a U.S. Notary Public differ from a Notario Publico?
  • Where do I report illegal or improper acts by a Notary?
  • How do I become a Notary Public?

What is a Notary Public?

A responsible person over the age of 18 appointed by state government to witness the signing of important documents and administer oaths.

Why are documents notarized?

To deter fraud. An impartial witness (the Notary) ensures that the signers of documents are who they say they are and not impostors. The Notary makes sure that signers have entered into agreements knowingly and willingly.

May any document be notarized?

For a document to be notarized, it must contain: (1) text committing the signer in some way; (2) an original signature (in the presence of the notary) of the document signer; and (3) a notarial certificate that may appear on the document itself or on an attachment. The Notary fills in the certificate, signs and dates it, then applies his or her seal to complete the notarization.

Is notarization required by law?

For many documents, yes. Certain affidavits, real estate deeds and other documents may not be legally binding unless they are properly notarized.

How does a Notary Identify a signer?

Generally, the Notary will ask to see a current identification document that has a photograph, physical description and a signature. A driver's license, military ID or passport will usually be acceptable.

Does notarization mean that a document is "true" or "legal"?

No. Notaries are not responsible for the accuracy or legality of documents they notarize. Notaries merely certify the identity of signers. The signers are responsible for the content of the documents.

What will I need to get my document notarized?

A standard notarization will require you produce a government issued photo ID such as a valid Driver's License or a Passport. Other forms of identification may be acceptable so long as it has your photo, signature, and is a commonly used means of identification. Please let us know the ID that you have so that we may be prepared for our meeting. Also, if your documentation requires you take an oath, please be prepared to orally state your position concerning the document.

Lastly, please note that a Notary Public is required by Federal law to refuse service to anyone that cannot reasonably prove their identity.

May a Notary give legal advice or draft legal documents?

Absolutely not. A Notary is forbidden from preparing legal documents for others or acting as a legal advisor unless he or she is also an attorney. Violators can be fined or jailed for the unauthorized practice of law.

May a Notary notarize or prepare Immigration papers?

Only a few immigration forms need to be notarized, such as the Affidavit of Support (1-134), but U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) regulations state that no one may prepare or file another person's immigration papers unless he or she is an attorney or a U.S. Justice Department-approved "accredited representative." Non attorneys can provide clerical, secretarial or translating assistance with INS forms, so long as no advice is given. However, courts have held that even the selection of which forms to complete can constitute the practice of law, since the filing of INS forms creates legal consequences having a substantial impact on the applicant.

May a Notary refuse to serve people?

Only if the Notary is uncertain of a signer's identity, willingness or general competence, or has a good reason to suspect fraud. Notaries should not refuse to serve anyone because of race, religion, nationality, lifestyle, or because the person is not a client or customer. Discrimination on any basis is not a suitable policy for a public official.

How does a U.S. Notary Public differ from a Notario Publico?

A U.S. Notary Public is not the same as a Latin Notario Publico. In Latin American countries, a Notario Publico is a high-ranking official like a judge, or an attorney. Unlike a Notario Publico, a U.S. Notary Public is forbidden from preparing legal documents or giving advice on immigration or other matters, unless he or she is also an attorney.

Where do I report illegal or improper acts by a Notary?

Any wrongdoing or illegal activity should be reported to the police or appropriate state Notary-regulating office (secretary of state, governor, lieutenant governor or attorney general). Or, you may write the National Notary Association's NOTARY- CONSUMER WATCH, a program to assist consumers in reporting improper practices by unscrupulous or uninformed Notaries. NOTARY-CONSUMER WATCH does not investigate crimes nor give legal advice; it is a public service program directing consumers victimized by a Notary's actions to the appropriate agency.

How do I become a Notary?

In California, you must be at least 18 years old and you must be a legal resident of the state. This rule does not apply to those that have been appointed to act for a military reservation. Once your eligibility is established, you must then pass a written test based on the information found in the California Notary Handbook (see question above). You may take the test at various times throughout the year and at numerous location across the state. Once you pass the test (a minimum passing score of 70%), then you must (1) get fingerprinted, (2) obtain a Notary Bond of at least $10,000, and take a sworn oath in the county where you reside. For more information visit Cooperative Personnel Services (CPS).

Note: The article above may not contain current information.