What is a Notary Public?
A Notary Public is a public servant appointed by state government to witness the signing of important documents and administer oaths.
Why are documents notarized?
Documents are notarized to deter fraud and to ensure they are properly executed. An impartial witness (the Notary) identifies signers to screen out impostors and to make sure they have entered into agreements knowingly and willingly.
How does a Notary identify a signer?
Generally, the Notary will ask to see a current identification document or card with a photograph, physical description and signature. A driver's license, military ID or passport will usually be acceptable.
Is notarization required by law?
For many documents, yes. Certain affidavits, deeds and powers of attorney may not be legally binding unless they are properly notarized.
With other documents, no. Private entities and individuals may require notarization to strengthen the document and to protect it from fraud.
Does notarization make a document "true" or "legal"?
No. A notarization typically means the signer acknowledged to the Notary that he or she signed the document or vouched under oath or affirmation that the contents of the document were true.
May a Notary give legal advice or prepare legal documents?
Absolutely not. A Notary is forbidden from preparing legal documents or acting as a legal advisor unless he or she is also an attorney. Violators can be prosecuted for the unauthorized practice of law, so a Notary cannot answer your legal questions or provide advice about your particular document.
May a Notary prepare or notarize immigration papers?
Only a few immigration forms must be notarized, such as the Affidavit of Support (1-134, I-864), but the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) regulations state that no one may prepare or file another person's immigration papers unless he or she is an attorney or a U.S. Department of Justice-approved "accredited representative." Notaries may provide clerical, secretarial or translating assistance with INS forms as long as they do not provide legal advice, and then may notarize these forms.
Is a Notary the same as a Latin Notario Publico?
No. In Latin countries, the Notario Publico is a high-ranking official with considerable legal skills and training. Unlike the U.S. Notary, the Notario Publico drafts documents, provides legal advice, settles disputes and archives documents.
Can a Notary refuse to serve people?
Only if the Notary is uncertain of a signer's identity, willingness, mental awareness, or has cause to suspect fraud. Notaries may not refuse service on the basis of race, religion, nationality, lifestyle, or because the person is not a client or customer.
Where can I report unethical or unprofessional Notaries?
Any wrongdoing or illegal activity should be reported to law enforcement and the appropriate Notary-regulating state official (typically the secretary of state, governor, lieutenant governor or attorney general).