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Notaries: Do I Need One?

Whitney O’Sullivan

Notaries: Do I Need One?

Chances are, at some point you’ve needed the services of a notary public. But what exactly do they do, and when do you need one?

What Does A Notary Public Do?

Simply put, notary publics are people appointed by the state to act as an impartial witness to prevent fraud during the signing of a document.

A notary public will essentially monitor the signing process for you. His or her job is to ensure that you are actually you, the person signing the document; that you are not being forced into signing; that you understand what it is that you are signing; and sometimes even to administer an oath. Their presence is meant to prevent disagreements about the legitimacy of a signature and to protect people from being taken advantage of.

When a notary public notarizes a document, he or she will physically add a seal to and sign the document at the same time that you sign.

When a notary public notarizes a document, he or she will physically add a seal to and sign the document at the same time that you sign.

When Do You Need a Notary Public?

There is no comprehensive list of documents that always or never need to be notarized. Sometimes you will be asked to sign a document that clearly requires a notary seal. Other times, you will need to consider the contents of the document, your state’s laws, and whether or not you are concerned about parties contesting who signed the document and if the person was of sound mind at the time.

Typically there are three broad categories of things a notary is used for:

  • Acknowledgments: You will likely need a notary to acknowledge a document at some point. Transferring ownership of real estate usually requires a notary, as does granting power of attorney or shifting control of a trust.
  • Jurats: A jurat is an oath in which you certify that the contents of a certain document are true. The oath is administered by a notary public and is often related to evidence presented in court.
  • Certifications of Copies (not all states): In some states, a notary has the ability to represent that a copy of a document is in fact an exact copy.

Where Do You Find a Notary Public?

Many people choose to become certified as notary publics. It’s likely that someone in your workplace is one. You can also find them in most mail and shipping stores, banks, law firms, and other professional services offices. You might even be able to find one on your apartment complex’s leasing staff. (Personal anecdote: I was sworn into the California State Bar by a UPS employee.)

What Can’t a Notary Public Do?

While a notary public commonly deals with legal documents and may acquire some legal knowledge along the way, he or she is prohibited from preparing any documents for you or giving you legal advice. A notary public is there solely to perform an authentication role, not to offer an opinion on the content of what is being signed.

As with all legal processes, if you are unsure about what you are supposed to do or what you are signing, contact an attorney.