Handling Certified Copies of Public Records and Other Unusual Notary Requests

The majority of the time when you’re asked to provide notary services, the circumstances will be clear-cut and you have no concerns either notarizing a document – or declining to because it would be a violation of jurisdictional rules. However, there are times when a notary public may face unusual requests, such as asking for a copy certification of a record or identification paperwork. You should always contact the official agency that issues and maintains your notary credentials, but some background can help you understand what to do when a customer presents a document that you’re unsure about.

Copy Certification Basics

When you’re asked by a signer to verifying that a copy of an original document is true, they’re asking for a copy certification; “certifying a copy,” “copy certifying,” and other terms may be used interchangeably. Whether or not a notary public can issue a copy certification depends on the law of the state, as most notary rules do. Certain jurisdictions prohibit the practice entirely, and others limit copy certification to only some types of documents. In fact, some states prohibit notary copy certification to only the journals a notary professional maintains.


Copy Certifying Certain Public Records

As a general rule, copies of vital public records cannot be copy certified; these would include such documents as birth, marriage and death certificates. In the US, a vital record is maintained by the appropriate office – either at the state, county or local level. By law, this office is usually the only one authorized to keep these records. If a customer needs a certified copy of a record, they should approach that office. For instance, a county clerk or similar authority maintains birth certificates: Anyone needing a certified copy should obtain it directly through the appropriate agency, which will usually charge a fee to supply a certification.


Certifying Copies of “Recordable” Public Records

There are certain documents that may be recorded by an individual, but aren’t required to be filed with an official authority. Again, copy certification will depend upon the rules of your state, but there are a few common scenarios you should recognize. Some states prohibit a notary from certifying copies of any recordable document, while others make it illegal to copy certify recordable documents only if they have already been recorded. In addition, a few jurisdictions have an all-out ban on copy certification for any official or public record.

If you are prohibited from certifying copies of recordable paperwork in your state, you should keep in mind that – regardless of whether the document is actually recorded – you cannot certify anything that could potentially be recorded by the signer or any other party involved.


Certification of Various Forms of Identification

A driver’s license, state-issued ID or passport is not officially a public record, but you may be asked to certify copies of these documents under some circumstances. Some states specifically permit copy certifications for US passports and IDs issued within their own state; others will require an affidavit swearing to the validity of the identification. In a few jurisdictions, a notary public is barred from certifying a copy of an ID unless the notary professional is actually an employee of the agency that issued it.


Handling US Passports in States Where Copy Certification is Prohibited

If you live in a state where notarial certification is not allowed for any document, you can mention the option of making a request to the federal government. It’s possible for anyone to contact the US Department of State Foreign Affairs (USDOSFA) and obtain a copy of their passport records. When someone submits such a request, they would receive:

  • A cover letter verifying birth place and date;
  • The original passport application and photo;
  • A certificate bearing the seal of the USDOSFA, with certification that the documents constitute a true and correct copy of your passport records.

Another option is to obtain a Sworn Statement of Requestor. Under this process, a person presents his or her official US passport, along with an affidavit with a sworn statement that this document is a true and correct copy of their passport. Still, as a notary public, you should note that you are only notarizing the affidavit and the signature. The resulting document is not a copy certification of a US passport.

Keep in mind that you should only mention these processes as options for the requestor. You must always avoid language that recommends going about copy certification a certain way. Doing so may violate rules against notaries supplying legal advice.


General Rules on Notary Copy Certification

Where you are allowed to certify a copy of a document, you must follow the rules governing notarization applicable to your jurisdiction. Typically, these laws require the notary public to verify the identity of a person presenting the copy of the document and supply the notarial seal; your jurisdiction may also require you to enter the notarial act in your journal.

Hopefully, this helps you understand the copy certification process and how to handle unusual requests from customers. The most important takeaway is that it’s critical to check the specific rules of your jurisdiction to determine whether you can engage in a notarial act. In general, if you don’t know whether or not your notary act will be legal, decline to supply your notary seal. If you have questions or concerns about providing copy certification, you may consider consulting with a reputable notary services company in your state.

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