What is a notary?

A notary is a publicly mandated official who serves as an impartial witness to the signing of a legal document. Document signatures where the services of a notary are generally required are real estate deeds, affidavits, willstrusts, proxies, bills of sale or other official transactional documents. The main reason a notary is used is to deter fraud.

Key points to remember

  • A notary is an impartial witness to the signing or authentication of a legal document.
  • Examples where notaries are required include real estate deeds, affidavits, wills, trusts and powers of attorney.
  • Notaries must be at least 18 years old and reside in the state where they are licensed. Thereafter, the steps to become a notary public differ from state to state.
  • The National Notary Association (NNA) is a good resource for notary education and information.

Understand the notary

A notary, also known as a notary public, can be used to create reliable documentation or that a transaction has taken place and been officially recorded. For a document to be notarial, it must contain a declared commitment. The document must also contain the original signatures of the parties involved.

Before signing a document, notaries ask for photo identification from participating parties. A notary may refuse to authenticate a document if he is unsure of the identity of the signatories or if there is evidence fraud. The document then receives a notarized certificate and the seal of the notary who witnessed the signatures.

Notaries cannot refuse to witness a document based on race, nationality, religion or gender.

History of the notary

According to the National Association of Notaries (NNA), notaries were used as early as 2750 BCE in Egypt and Sumer. Called scribes by the Egyptians, these writers and witnesses documented much of the history of the ancient world. The Roman Empire used journalists and scribes to witness and document everything from speeches to weather and to create official documents. The first recognized notary was Tiro, a Roman servant who developed shorthand for recording speeches.

The Chinese also used scribes to document events, teachings, record resource and labor data, and help the state run with detailed accounting.

Notaries accompanied Christopher Columbus on his travels to assure King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella that all discoveries were valid.

The writer Mark Twain was a notary, while Salvador Dali, Leonardo da Vinci and Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States, were sons of notaries. Coolidge remains the only president sworn in by a notary, his father.

Women were not allowed to be notaries until the 1900s, but they now outnumber male notaries, according to the NNA.

How to become a notary

The steps to becoming a notary vary from state to state. Generally speaking, notaries must be at least 18 years old and reside in the state where they are licensed.

Costs to become a notary public include training, supplies, bond, and the oath of office. Notaries cannot give legal advice and can be fined for it. Nor should they act in situations where they have a personal interest.

Requirements vary, but in general most states require that you:

  • Meet all state requirements
  • Enroll in and attend an accredited notary course
  • Take an exam
  • Complete an application, have it notarized and submit it with all required documentation
  • After approval, take an oath, pay fees and purchase your notary seal

Additionally, many states do not allow a person to become a notary public if they have a prior felony or misdemeanor conviction.

Where can I legalize a document?

Many notaries offer their services and create listings or web pages with contact information. Many packaging stores, postal centers, postal services and copy centers also employ notaries. Some places where you can get a document notarized are:

  • Post Office
  • Banks and credit unions
  • Real estate companies
  • Tax and accounting offices
  • Libraries
  • Colleges
  • Shipping stores

You can also search online for online notaries in your area. Some states have begun exploring electronic and remote notary options during the Covid-19 pandemic. Many states have enacted legislation allowing remote online notarization (RON) in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak and pandemic.

By using RON, you can access the services of an online notary from anywhere as long as your state’s requirements are met. Most states assign regulatory compliance to the office of the Secretary of State. You can check with your Secretary of State if the RON is available.

What does a notary do?

A notary public is an official trusted by a state government to witness signatures and verify that transactions have taken place or that something documented has actually happened.

What does it take to become a notary?

To become a notary, you must meet your state’s requirements and then go through a learning and application process. You may also be required to take an exam. Once you pass, you are sworn in as a notary.

How much does it cost to be a notary?

Fees for being a notary public vary by state. In some states, notaries are required to recertify, which increases costs. They must also purchase their seal.

The essential

Notaries have performed an essential function in government and society for thousands of years. From documenting crop yields in the past to verifying documents and signatures on the internet, notaries continue to ensure that the information provided is reliable.

All states and counties have notaries. You can find a notary in many companies, you might even find one next door. If you live in a remote area or cannot find a notary otherwise, many states have passed legislation to make it easier to notarize your documents through remote technologies.

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