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What Are Notaries?

A notary public is a person given authority by the state to serve as a witness on official documents.  Notarization does not prove the truthfulness of a document or legalize or validate the document.  The notary is only verifying the signature and the identity of the signer.  

Notaries cannot give legal advice in the United States, though in many other countries they do.  Because of this, there have been some instances of notaries engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.  This usually occurs with immigrants who want to avoid hiring a lawyer but need legal assistance, such as with immigration papers.

What Requires Notarization?

Documents that may require notarization include:

Notarizations of these documents fall into two major categories:

- Acknowledgments are executed on documents affecting property.  The notary signs a statement that the signor of the document: 

  • appeared before the notary;
  • was positively identified by the notary;
  • acknowledged having signed the document.

Jurats - A jurat is used in affidavits and is a certificate by the notary stating that the signor:

  • appeared before the notary;
  • was positively identified by the notary;
  • signed the document in the notary's presence;
  • took an oath administered by the notary swearing to the truth of the document.

What Are the Requirements to Become a Notary?

The specific duties and training requirements of notaries differ by state. Most states require no formal training though many do require a short exam.  Some states require an application signed by a state legislator and others require witnesses attest to an applicant's moral character. 

The major duty of notaries in all states is to witness the signing of documents, though the method of doing so differs between states.  Most states do not require a seal from notaries on documents, though most people expect them and so many notaries use them.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Many legal documents require notarization before taking effect and many law offices have notaries on staff.  If you have any questions about the authentication of a document or whether a document require notarization, you should speak to a real estate lawyer. 

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 06-24-2018 10:27 PM PDT

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