A person authorized to witness the signing of legal documents

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What is a Notary?

A notary, also called a notary public, is a person authorized to witness the signing of legal documents, usually concerned with deeds, estates, licenses, power of attorney, affidavits, and trusts. As a publicly commissioned official, a notary is tasked with verifying the authenticity of documents, and they serve as impartial witnesses when signing legal documents.


Legal documents are notarized to ensure that transactions are properly executed and to deter fraud. When verifying the authenticity of documents, notaries are required to identify signatories to a document to weed out impostors and to ensure that parties enter into an agreement willingly and knowingly.

Notaries are appointed by a government authority, such as a court or state governments, or by a regulatory body, such as a faculty of notaries public. Although notaries are public officials, they do not receive remuneration from the government, and they earn income by charging fees for services rendered.

Duties of a Notary

The main role of a notary is to verify the authenticity of legal documents and create a trustworthy environment for parties to an agreement. The legal documents must meet the minimum requirements to be notarized. Some of the requirements include a stated commitment, original signatures from the parties involved in the agreement, as well as photo identification of the signatories.

If a notary is satisfied that the document meets all the requirements, he/she awards a notarial certificate and appends the seal of the notary on the document. However, if a legal document does not meet the requirements or the identity of the participating parties is uncertain, a notary may refuse to authenticate the document.

Other duties of a notary include the following:

  • Identifying fraud
  • Affirming the state of mind of participating parties
  • Verifying and recording the identification of agreement participants
  • Completing notarial certificate on all documents
  • Bearing witness to documents/items in a safe deposit box
  • Maintaining a notary journal
  • Administering oaths
  • Taking affidavits and statutory declarations
  • Handling loan documents, contracts, marriage certificates, and other legal documents

Education, Training, and Certifications

Qualifying as a notary is a simple process, and potential candidates are generally required to pass a background check and an online exam. The requirements vary from state to state. You can check online for the requirements of becoming a notary in your state of residence.

The basic requirement for a notary is that they must be 18 years and older and reside in the specific state where they are licensed to operate. Also, they should not have a history of convictions for misdemeanors and/or felonies.

In the United States, most states do not impose minimum educational requirements for notaries. Instead, potential candidates are required to complete an online exam upon payment of a specific fee, usually $100.

To qualify as a notary signing agent, the notary may be required to pay additional fees and pass background checks to obtain notary certification. Also, there is continuous training for notaries in the form of online classes, workshops, and seminars that are offered by local colleges and the National Notary Association.

What are Notarized Documents?

A notarized document is a document that has been verified and certified by a notary. The notary has a responsibility to verify that all signatures on a document are legitimate to prevent cases of fraud or coercion. The notary verifies a few things when notarizing legal documents, such as:

1. Identity of the persons appearing before the notary

The notary is required to verify the identity of the persons signing the legal document, either by personal acquaintance or reference to proofs of identity, such as a driver’s license or passport. Once verified, the participating parties are recorded in the notarial register, also called a protocol.

2. Sound mind

The notary should confirm that the participating parties understand what they are signing and that they are of sound mind before and during the signing of the documents. The person signing should not be intoxicated, medicated, or any other situation that may affect their judgment.

3. Adult age

The notary should verify that the person appearing to sign the document has attained adult age (18 years and above) and has the capacity to enter into a binding agreement. If some of the participating parties are minors, the notary cannot notarize the document.

4. Willing signers

The notary should verify that the signers are willing and capable of signing legal documents, and there are no signs of coercion. If either of the parties is not signing on their free will, it may be a sign that the person is being forced to append their signature on the document.

Notarial Fees

Notarial fees are fees paid to a notary service provider to get a document notarized. Generally, legal documents, such as property deeds, loan papers, powers of attorney, contracts, and affidavits, often require signatures in the presence of a notary public to be considered authentic.

The notary verifies the identity of the participating parties while ensuring the parties are of sound mind and are signing the document willingly without coercion.

Additional Resources

CFI is the official provider of the global Commercial Banking & Credit Analyst (CBCA)™ certification program, designed to help anyone become a world-class financial analyst. To keep advancing your career, the additional resources below will be useful:

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