What Is Notarization?

When notarization occurs, a notary public certifies the authenticity of any signature appended to a document. Notaries act as government agents to witness the authenticity of signatures appended to legal attestations.

Key Takeaways

  • When notarization occurs, a notary public certifies the authenticity of any signature appended to a document.
  • A notarized document carries legal weight because a notary acts as a neutral third-party witness.
  • Notaries do not receive remuneration from the government for their work.
  • Notarization requires a notary public to witness signatures and usually a notary stamp as well.

Understanding Notarization

In the United States, notaries public can notarize documents and act as agents for the state in which they are registered. A notarized document carries legal weight because a notary acts as a neutral third-party witness to the authenticity of one or more parties signing an agreement, affidavit, attestation, or other similar documents.

Most states require notaries to notarize documents by stamping them with an official seal and initialing the stamp. In some cases, notarization includes the preparation of a legal certificate. Some states now allow online notarization of documents using video cameras and online apps.

Notaries typically do not receive any remuneration from the government for their work. Instead, they charge fees for notary-related activities, including notarizing documents. While the fees charged may vary, some states establish standard fees or maximum allowable fees for specific services.

Many banks and some other businesses, such as UPS, offer notarization services to their customers.

Requirements for Notarization

The most important requirement for notarization is that the signatures on the document must be attested to by a certified notary. In the United States, states are responsible for certifying notaries, and they impose different requirements. However, there are a few basic requirements that are similar in most states. Notaries must be over 18, residents of the state in which they wish to be notaries, and have no felony convictions (unless their rights were restored). There may be other requirements as well. For example, California requires notaries to take classes.

Notarization also typically requires that the certified notary stamp the document with an official seal. Notaries can buy these stamps as part of a kit at reasonable prices.

Finally, notaries will usually ask for ID. They will want to see people sign the documents in person or via live video. Bringing in documents signed by someone else to be notarized does not work. However, some notaries will travel to witness signatures for a fee.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Notarization

The most important advantage of getting a document notarized is that it is legally required in some cases. Even when it is not legally required, notarization increases confidence that a document was actually signed by the parties involved.

On the other hand, notaries are sometimes called on to witness signatures for I-9s and other official documents that do not need to be notarized. In some cases, using the notary stamp can invalidate these documents.

Examples of Notarization

Legal documents that deal with serious matters or that are intended to represent transactions of substantial monetary value commonly require notarization. For example, parties in real estate transactions typically require notarized deeds for added assurance that the transaction will hold up if legally challenged or if one party attempts to breach the terms at a later date.

Many documents that confer major legal rights also require notarization. For example, transfers of ownership for automobiles, advanced directive forms, and forms indicating changes to power of attorney typically must be notarized to be enforceable.

Most notarizations require that a notary public provide either an acknowledgment or a jurat. An acknowledgment requires the notary public to certify that a person signing a document has provided identification and made a legal declaration that they signed a document willingly. Mortgage documents, for example, typically must include the signatures of the borrower and the lender.

A jurat provides a second layer of protection by requiring an individual to sign the document in front of the notary in addition to swearing that they are doing so willingly. While the difference may seem subtle, some documents such as legal affidavits require that the parties swearing to the information in them sign them and take an oath affirming that they have made the statement truthfully and willingly. In those cases, the language of an acknowledgment, which does not specify whether or not an individual signed a document before a notary, would be unacceptable.