DEFINITION of 'Notary'

A notary is a publicly commissioned official, also referred to as a "notary public." The main duty of a notary is to serve as an impartial witness to the signing of a legal document. Notaries cannot refuse to witness a document based on race, nationality, religion or sex. Document signings where consumers are likely to need the services of a notary include real estate deeds, affidavits, wills, trusts and powers of attorney. The main reason a notary is used is to deter fraud.

BREAKING DOWN 'Notary'

Notaries are also used to create a trustworthy environment for strangers. Prior to the signing of a document, notaries ask for photo identification from parties involved to verify identity and see signatures ahead of time. A notary can refuse to authenticate a document if he is uncertain of the identity of the signing parties or suspects fraud. For a document to be notarized, it must contain a commitment of some sort via text. The document must also contain original signatures from the parties involved. The document then receives a notarial certificate and the seal of the notary who witnessed the signings. Notaries are not able to give legal advice and can be fined for doing so. Notaries are not to act in situations where they have a personal interest.

The steps and costs to becoming a notary vary state to state. Notaries must be 18 years old and reside in the state in which they are licensed. There are also limits on becoming a notary with prior convictions of felonies and misdemeanors. Costs to become a notary cover items such as training, supplies, a bond and the oath of office.

History of Notaries

The history of notaries can be traced back to the times of ancient Egypt when they were known as scribes. Notaries have also been present in several of the most important time periods in world history. The first recognized notary was Tito, a Roman slave during the ancient Roman empire. A notary accompanied Christopher Columbus on his voyage to ensure King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella that all discoveries were properly noted.

Popular author Mark Twain was once a notary. Artists Salvador Dali and Leonardo Da Vinci were both the sons of notaries. Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States, was also the son of a notary. Coolidge remains the only president to be sworn into office by a notary, his father. Women were not allowed to be notaries until the 1900s, and as of 2016, make up more than 60% of the workforce.

Since 1957, the National Notary Association has helped people across the country become notaries. It is the national leader in training and education. The organization is a nonprofit and serves more than 4.5 million members nationwide.

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