Many people assume that “notarization” and “attestation” refer to the same act.
That’s not quite the case.
While only a state-commissioned public notary can perform a notarization, anyone can perform an attestation. Read more to learn the subtle differences between the two legal terms.
An attestation happens when a person not involved in a transaction (a third party) “attests” or witnesses the two involved parties sign a document. The third party then signs a statement that he or she saw the two involved parties sign the document, and sometimes verifies the content itself.
It’s not uncommon for documents to require witness attestations, particularly for high-value transactions.
For example, when a foreign spouse of an American citizen applies for permanent residence in the United States—a “green card”—that person must provide statements from witnesses who have observed the couple together during their time in the United States. Green card applicants often ask neighbors, friends, or clergypersons to write a statement detailing their observations of the pair interacting as a couple. The witness’s signature on that document would be an attestation.
Other documents, however, require the signature of a legal public notary. Many high-dollar transactions, such as the transfer of real estate and vehicle titles, require a notary’s signature, called a “notarization.”
Notarization is the act of assuring each of the parties in a transaction that the document they’re signing is authentic. It’s an effort to prevent fraud and ensure that each signer is authentic.
Each of the parties must sign the document in person as the notary looks on. Often, a notary (the professional who notarizes) will compare the signature on the document with that on the identification card to make sure that the signature is genuine.
Notaries must also determine if any of the parties seem to be under duress or seem intimidated. This crucial step helps prevent those who would exploit the mentally ill, victims of human trafficking, the elderly, or other vulnerable demographics.
Notaries perform three basic types of notarization:
- Acknowledgements: When someone sells or otherwise conveys ownership of an asset.
- Certified copies: Confirmation that a copy of an original document is complete, accurate, and true. For instance, an employer can verify a diploma via a notary’s certified copy.
- Jurats: Legal procedures often require documents that provide critical evidence in a case, such as depositions, interrogatories, and affidavits. Signers must recite an affirmation or oath that the information is true, just as if they would in an actual courtroom.
In some states, notaries must document all the details for each notarization in an official journal and complete a certificate that states the facts that the notary is certifying. In most states, the notary will affix an official seal of his or her office to serve as proof that the notary’s signature is authentic.
Attestations and Notarizations are not the same thing – and it’s important to keep the difference in mind when you need to get an important document signed.
If you only need a witness to sign a document, that’s a simple attestation. Anyone can do it.
But if you need to ensure that neither party is defrauding the other, you’ll have to get in touch with a state-commissioned notary – and we can help with that.