The notary seal is as vital for the completion of the notarial act as the presence and powers of the individual who is your Notary Public. Now, notary seals are not required in all states. However, the states that do require the seal endow it with specific functions that make the functions of a Notary Public official.
Notaries witness, validate, and officially sign-off on essential documents. These include verifying identities, completing certificates of acknowledgment, proofs of written instruments, and jurats. It’s not just the presence of a seal that varies from state to state — there are also different rules about what details need to appear on the seal. Alabama, for example, is not as stringent with the details on their seals as Alaska.
You should know the distinctions for notary seals in your state, as well as the role of a notary seal in general so that you can spot the misuse of its responsibility.
What is a Notary Seal?
A Notary Public uses a notary seal to create an impression using an inked stamp or a crimping embosser. The notary seal is used to transfer authentication or official recognition by the Notary Public to the document with the Notary’s signature. The seal is also especially important and relevant to the completion of the notarial act because it is linked to the commission of the Notary Public.
When Notary Publics are “commissioned,” they gain office and are anointed by the secretary of the state as being legally able to perform notarizations within the state. There are basic details relating to this official position that appear on the seal or stamp, and this includes information such as:
- Notary Public’s name
- State of commission
- Date of the commission expiration
The date of commission expiration is particularly important, as far as the potential for misuse of the responsibility to notarize goes. It is illegal for a Notary Public in any state to continue using their notary seal after the date of commission expiration passes. Technically, any document they preside over will be fraudulent after this point because their commission isn’t recognized as valid.
Responsibilities and Powers of a Notary Seal
Notary Publics must take an Oath of office, and they may also need an Affidavit of Character as part of their application and appointment as the holder of this office. This should tell you how serious the role of a Notary Public is, and how ethically aligned an officer needs to be. This extends to the use of the notary seal.
Only approved Notary Publics will receive a notary seal or a date of renewal for their new stamp or seal. After four years of operating as a Notary Public, however, the notary must apply to renew their commission and then be approved by the secretary of state. If you consider the importance of a notary in performing notarial acts, you’ll understand why misuse of the seal is so significant. States such as Florida stipulate that Notary Publics are not licensed, they are commissioned, and that the appointment is a privilege, not a right.
Essentially, a fraudulent Notary Public who officially signs-off on your documents using the notary seal is saying these documents have been verified and attested to by a current Notary Public — and that’s not true at all.
This could call the provenance and veracity of your documents into question, and would technically invalidate their official status. If your document involves applications such as notarizations of a bill of sale, jurats, real estate deals, and immigration applications, this can seriously hold up the process and even jeopardize it. Once the date of commission expiration passes, Notary Publics must dispose of their old seal (or return it), especially if they plan to renew.
Pro-tip: Some states recognize seals and stamps as different and distinct. They may see embossers as seals and inked rubber stamps as such. Stamps are usually rectangular though some states specifically require a round stamp. With this distinction, states will tell Notary Publics how wide a rectangular or a circular stamp or seal can be.
When Do Notary Publics Use a Notary Seal?
Each state has its own requirements on the physical properties of a seal, the detailed information included, how it photographs or photocopies, and the acts to which it applies. Usually, notary seals apply to the forms or certificates that validate a notarial act. In California, for example, the seal of every Notary Public has to contain a sequential identification number that all manufacturers or vendors of the seal must include. The seal can only be an inch wide and needs to sit beside the signature at the bottom of the certificate.
States like Connecticut, where seals are optional, have, again, a different set of requirements for the notary seal. Since it’s not mandatory, Notary Publics don’t need to carry one. However, if they choose to use it, the notary seal has to follow some specific requirements, which include:
- The notaries name exactly as it appears on the certificate of appointment
- Specific words that include, “Notary Public,” and “Connecticut”
- A statement that reads, “My commission expires on,” along with the date
Location matters when it comes to the notary seal, and some states have requirements for where you can place the stamp.
Notary Publics can and will use a seal at any point at which they want to acknowledge that they have presided over, witnessed, and are attesting to a document that requires a notarial act.
Where Does a Notary Public Get A Notary Seal?
It’s not the governor of a state that gives newly appointed Notary Publics their notary seal. Rather, Notary Publics must purchase a seal or stamp from their bonding company or a company that sells rubber stamps. Again, it does differ from across states: In Arkansas, for example, a Notary Public should send a copy of their Commission Certificate to a specific issuer, such as the National Notary Association (NNA).
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The Importance of the Notary Seal for the Notarial Act