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A notary public is an official who witnesses and verifies the validity of signatures on legal documents as they are being signed. They are committed to preventing fraud by providing a secure environment for the official signing of important records and to ensure that all parties can prove their identity.

To look at what duties notaries perform in more detail, this article examines the legal contracts and documents that you can and cannot ask a notary to officiate over. It also explains how you can find a notary when you require their services and how to register as a notary yourself.

What Does a Notary Do?

The most important duty of notary services is to verify the identity of those signing legal documents and contracts. This is to ensure that no one is defrauding the other parties signing the forms by using a fake persona.

Notary signing agents ensure that the law is followed when life-changing legal forms are officially signed. This means they must impartially authorize the signing of documents without prejudice to race, gender, or sexual orientation.

In order to notarize a document successfully, the notary ensures that all signees:

  • Are present
  • Are over the age of 18
  • Are mentally competent to sign
  • Can sufficiently prove their identity
  • Don’t appear to be signing under any duress

In some cases, notaries can also put the signees under an oath when necessary. However, only a few documents and states require this.

If all these procedures are followed correctly and no discrepancies are discovered by the notary in question, the official is then able to stamp the document to verify its authenticity. This normally signifies the end of the signing process as the seal on the document from the notary indicates the agreement of all parties in signing the forms.

Notaries are often called upon to help clients officially sign important financial, legal, and real estate documents. It might be necessary to call on a notary if you are signing a:

What Documents Can a Notary Not Notarize?

Notary publics in the US are not legal professionals unlike in many other countries around the world. They only have the authority to provide official impartial witness to the signing of specific legal contracts and documents, such as those listed above.

Usually, notaries won’t be able to sign a copy that contains photocopied or faxed signatures. These must always be handwritten and original.

Additionally, you most likely don’t need a notary to oversee the authenticity of a signature for the following items:

  • Birth certificates
  • Death certificates
  • Photographs
  • Objects and memorabilia

Naturally, notaries are also unable to authenticate legal documents where the signees are found to be using a false identity, are not mentally competent, or are signing under duress. Any document or situation that would contravene their code of practice will prevent a notary from successfully notarizing a document.

Where Can I Find a Notary

You can find notary publics in many trading locations across your state. Numerous types of businesses have a notary available so that common legal documents within their profession can be quickly authorized. You will often encounter notaries in:

  • Banks
  • Law firms
  • Real estate firms
  • AAA
  • Colleges and universities
  • Photocopy shops
  • Libraries
  • Accountant offices

How to Become a Notary

To become a notary you must be over 18 years of age, live in the state where you will perform your duties, and have no felony or misdemeanor convictions. The process of becoming registered as a notary public broadly follows these steps:

  1. You must first meet your state’s requirements for registration and complete and submit an application
  2. Pay a filing fee
  3. Receive a commissioning certificate from the state
  4. File this commissioning paperwork along with a bond with your Notary regulating official

Be aware that some states may require extra steps to becoming a registered notary. You could also need to:

  • Pass training provided by an approved vendor
  • Complete a state-authorized exam
  • Receive a background check

Becoming a notary is not however, an expensive process. It can cost as little as $100 or as much as several hundred depending on your state. If you wish to register you should first make enquiries with either the National Notary Association (NNA) or your local notary governing body for more information.