If you’ve ever retained the services of a notary public in connection with a mortgage, real estate transaction, estate plan, structured settlement or other transaction, you know the importance of this role. The position of a notary public in society dates back centuries; it’s such an honored, respected profession that notaries were instrumental in our early days as American colonies, and then later as a new nation seeking to cement itself as an international trade resource. Today, the job is rewarding and will keep you busy as you act as an impartial witness to execution of important documents. Fortunately, the requirements to become a notary public are straightforward.
The Function of a Notary Public
The role of a notary public is an important one, as these professionals are appointed by state government to act as an impartial witness to the execution of important documents. The purpose behind requiring a notary seal to deter fraud by signatories in certain transactions and paperwork where wrongdoing would otherwise be widespread. Part of a notary’s job is to verify identity, so they can confirm that the person signing a document is, in fact, who they say they are. A notary also assesses the signatory’s willingness to sign the document of their own free will, without threats or coercion.
Requirements to Become a Notary Public
There are general requirements to obtain your notary credentials, as well as some that are specific to the state where you reside.
Anyone who is age 18 or older and does not have a criminal record may become a notary public. Plus, you must be a legal resident of the state where you’re seeking a notary commission and will provide notary services. As part of the application process, you’ll supply this information under oath.
You also should be fluent in reading and writing English to properly perform notary tasks, which involve reading documents and communicating with the people who will be signing them.
State Specific Requirements
Each state has enacted different laws regarding notary public services, so you should check with the appropriate government agency to find out exact requirements. In many states, you work with the Secretary of State’s Office to file your application, pay fees, receive your commission and renew your credentials. You’ll also need to arrange for your notary seal or stamp in order to officially certify a notarial act.
In some states, you may have to complete training or pass an exam regarding your position as a notary public. Other states have such requirements as:
- Including a passport-style photo with your application;
- Providing a copy of your fingerprints;
- Proof of bond or insurance coverage required by law; or,
- Keeping a notary journal to track the transactions where you’ve provided notary services.
Your Job as a Notary Professional
Once you obtain your notary public credentials and meet all other requirements of your state, you are now ready to provide notary services.
Tasks required for a notarization to be legally sufficient include five essential factors:
- Presence of the Signers: Signatories must be physically present for the notarial act to be effective. This requirement ensures that the signers are acting through their own free will, in the absence of intimidation.
- Verify Identity: The signatory must be “personally” known to you as notary public. Because it’s rare that you’ll actually know the person signing, you will typically verify identity by reviewing a government issued identification card.
- Review the Document: Here, you’ll simply verify what the document is, ensure that it’s an original, and check to see that it’s complete, with no blank spaces.
- Proper Notarial Language: This requirement serves to demonstrate that the notarial act occurred contemporaneously with the signing of the document. Common language would be: “Subscribed and sworn to before me this [date].”
- Apply the Notary Seal/Stamp: Place your stamp or seal along the notary language and signatures.
Common Transactions & Documents that Require Notarization
Considering that the role of the notary public is to reduce the risk of fraud, there are certain documents and transactions where notarization will be required by law. Typically, the subject of a notarial act will be a life-changing document or paperwork of significant financial impact. States will vary on exact requirements, but common scenarios include:
- Documents conveying title to real estate, such as through sale, gift, or other transfer;
- Loan documents related to real estate, including the mortgage, promissory note, and other legally binding paperwork;
- Wills, trusts and estate planning documents;
- Prenuptial agreements;
- Structured settlement documents;
- Powers of attorney appointing an agent to manage real and personal property; and,
- Powers of attorney appointing an agent to make decisions regarding healthcare and medical treatment.
In addition, there are other transactions where parties may seek notary services, even if not required by law. Where a significant amount of money is being exchanged, it can be helpful to have a notary seal to enforce an agreement’s terms or compel payment.
Finally, there may be other notary services involved with executing paperwork, depending on the type of document and/or legal requirements.
At times, a signer is required to formally declare that they acknowledge the execution of a document. This means that he or she:
- Understands the contents of the paperwork;
- Acknowledges that the signature on the document is his or her own; and,
- Applies the signature without coercion.
Oath & Affirmation
Some documents require the signer to swear to a notary that the contents of the document are true and accurate. Documents filed with a court commonly require that a litigant provide an oath and affirmation that the statements made within are true and correct, especially where the signatory has stated certain facts known to him or her.
The job of a notary public is an important one, so equally important requirements must be fulfilled in order to qualify to provide notarial acts. There are general and state-specific prerequisites to become a notary professional, as well as ongoing conditions you’ll need to meet in order to maintain your status. The good news is that, once you’ve obtained your notary public credentials, you can work for any one of a number of professional notary services in a fulfilling, personally satisfying career – one that will be as in demand now and in the future as it has been for generations. Contact a notary public directly for more information on the laws in your state and other requirements to become a notary.