While there are many requirements to becoming a notary public, the process can be relatively easy if you follow each step carefully. While, these can differ by state, here are the general steps to becoming a notary:
- Make sure you meet your state’s specific qualifications.
- Complete all required coursework to become a notary and take your state’s required exam.
- Download and submit an application online or submit it in person to the secretary of State’s office.
- Complete and submit the application with any necessary documents or fee to the State’s office.
- Obtain a notary bond (if required).
- Take a notary oath.
- Purchase a stamp or notary seal.
Read on for in-depth information on each step.
The first step is to meet the basic qualification requirements for a notary public. In the majority of states, the applicant must be at least 18 years of age, a permanent resident of the state that he/she is applying in, must be able to read and write English, and with no prior felony charges. In some states, it is a requirement that the applicant must be a US citizen and not have had his notary commission cancelled in any other state of US.
The second step is to complete the coursework required to be a notary public and then take the exam if it is a requirement of the state. Many states do not require applicants to take an exam. In the states that do require an exam, such as Missouri and California, the proof of completion of the exam must be attached with the application, or the applicant must attest that he/she has completed the required training. In some states, all an applicant needs to do is to get notary handbook and get acquainted with the laws and regulations.
Download and submit an application online or submit it in person to the secretary of State’s office. The application must have the Social Security Number, full name of the applicant, permanent address, and date of birth. The applicant might also need to give permission to run a background check on him/her and they might also be asked to provide information about any criminal record in the past or attest that there are no felony charges against him/her.
Complete and submit the application with any necessary documents or fee to the State’s office. The fee varies from state to state.
If the state requires it, the applicant might also need to obtain a notary bond. A bond is a kind of business insurance and the amount of the bond varies from one state to another. For instance, in Missouri, applicants are required to purchase a $10,000 surety bond. The applicant must follow the regulations of the state about when to submit the proof of the bond.
The 6th step is to take an oath. Who may administer the oath and the conditions of the oath varies from state to state. Depending on the state, an applicant might take an oath in a courtroom, county clerk’s office or even online in some cases.
The last step is to purchase the stamp or notary seal. Many office supply stores might not sell one without identification or proof of commission. Generally, a seal includes the name of the notary, commission number and a phrase that identifies him/her as a notary in the state. These requirements may also vary from state to state.
Anyone who is over the age of 18 and does not have a criminal record may become a notary public. In addition, you must be a legal resident of the state where you’re seeking a notary commission in order to qualify to provide notary services. As part of the application process in your state, you’ll supply this information under oath, swearing as to the accuracy of the statements.
As a practical matter, you should be fluent in reading and writing English to properly perform notary tasks, which involve communicating with the people who will be signing the documents. You’ll also need to arrange for your notary seal or stamp in order to officially certify a notarial act.
Each state has different laws regulating notary public services, so you should check with your jurisdiction to find out exact requirements. In most states, you work with the Secretary of State’s Office to file your application, pay fees, receive your commission and handle renewals.
In some states, you may have to complete training and/or pass an exam regarding your position as a notary public. Other states have such requirements as:
- Filing a passport-style photo with your application;
- Obtaining a copy of your fingerprints;
- An application fee;
- Proof of bond coverage in the designated minimal amount, usually around $15,000; and,
- Keeping a notary journal to track all 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.