WHAT IS 'Notary'

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

BREAKING DOWN 'Notary'

A notary, also referred to a notary public, can be used as a way to create a trustworthy environment for the parties to an agreement. For a document to be notarized, it must contain a stated commitment. The document must also contain original signatures from the parties involved. Prior to the signing of a document, notaries ask for photo identification from the participating parties. A notary can refuse to authenticate a document if uncertain about the identity of the signing parties or there is evidence of fraud. The document then receives a notarial certificate and the seal of the notary who witnessed the signings. 

The steps to becoming a notary vary state to state. Broadly, notaries must be 18 years old and reside in the state in which they are licensed. There are also limits to becoming a notary with prior convictions of felonies and misdemeanors. Costs to become a notary include training, supplies, a bond and the oath of office. Notaries are not able to give legal advice and can be fined for doing so. Also, notaries are not to act in situations where they have a personal interest.

History of Notaries

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. 

Notaries can be traced back to ancient Egypt when they were known as scribes. 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 notarized for the day. 

Author Mark Twain was once a notary. Artists Salvador Dali and Leonardo Da Vinci were 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, but now outnumber male notaries, according to the National Notary Association.

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