Did you know that the role of the notary can be traced all the way back to ancient Egypt? More than 4,000 years ago, scribes in the Old Kingdom were established to make all kinds of documents official.
The question of the legitimacy of documents has been an important one for as long as civilizations have been writing things down. In our modern world, identity theft and fraud are unfortunately all too common. Amongst other things, notary services help protect individuals from these issues.
If you’ve been instructed to have a document notarized, you might be wondering what this means exactly. What is a notary and what do they do? Where can you find a notary?
Let’s take a look at everything you need to know.
What Is a Notary?
A notary is a public official that is able to certify that signatures are authentic on important documents. A notary signing agent has to verify the identity of an individual who is signing a document. This individual must sign the paperwork under their own free will.
Some documents might require that a notary also administers an oath. They also may have to verify that all of the identifying details in the document are correct. This might include the name, address, and more.
The laws regarding a notary’s role can differ from state to state. In states such as Maine, Florida, and South Carolina, for example, a notary can even be a wedding officiant. In some states, they also might be authorized to certify copies of documents.
The purpose of the role of a notary is to help combat identity theft or fraud. These issues can arise during particular transactions. By having a notary signing agent, all parties are assured that proper execution has been undergone and document preparation.
Why Do You Need a Notary?
There are a number of different documents that you might require notary service for. These might include mortgages, deeds, transfers of sale, and other contracts. By using a notary, you can certify that these documents are legally binding and legitimate.
Who Can Be a Notary?
There are different procedures in every state for certifying notaries. In general, though, anyone over the age of 18 can apply to be a notary. The process involves paying a fee and filling out a form.
In some states, an exam, training, and criminal background checks might be required. In some other countries, it is required that notaries are attorneys. However, the United States doesn’t have this requirement.
Where to Find a Notary
You can find directories of notaries online that are categorized by location. This way, you can search for your town and find someone in your location.
It is common to find notaries at specific locations during normal business hours. These places include:
- Public libraries
- Credit unions, banks, and other financial institutions
- Local police station, courthouse, or City Hall
- Insurance agencies
- Shipping companies
- AAA branches (for members)
- Your place of business
- Military bases
- College campuses
- Hotel business center
Sometimes these types of locations will offer free notary services. However, not all of them do. Therefore, you’ll want to be aware that a fee might be required. You might find, for example, that getting a document notarized at a bank is free if you are an account holder but not if you don’t have an account with that institution.
If you are going to try and find a notary at a business rather than a financial institution, it’s best to call before you make the trip. Otherwise, you might find that there is no notary available when you arive.
These days, you also have the option of getting remote online notarization for some documents. You can learn more about how identities are verified remotely here.
How to Find a Notary If You’re Abroad
It can be a little bit more difficult to find notary services if you are traveling abroad. This is particularly the case if there is a language barrier. However, you should be able to do an online search to find a notary that can help you.
Beyond that, there is another option you can explore. These include:
- Military bases
- US embassies and consulates
- Private attorneys
- Hotel business centers
- Local police station, courthouse, or City Hall
You’ll want to make sure that the notarization method you use will be accepted by the institution that you are submitting the document to.
How Much Does a Notary Usually Cost?
The fees for notaries vary. However, state law restricts how much a notary can charge per signature. The fees typically range anywhere between $2 and $50 for the initial signature.
Sometimes there is a discount rate for additional signatures.
How Can You Prepare For a Notary Appointment?
You will want to bring the document that you need to have notarized with you to the appointment. Additionally, you will need at least one type of government-issued photo identification.
In some cases, it is required that the notary witness the individual signing the document. In other situations, it is allowed for the person to sign the document ahead of time.
If you aren’t sure whether or not it is required that the notary witness the signature, wait to sign the document until you are in the presence of the notary.
It’s a good idea to always check with the notary before you go to the appointment. They will be able to let you know if there’s anything else you need to bring or anything else you need to do to prepare.
Is It Required For All Parties to Be Present For a Document to Be Notarized?
It is usually not required that all of the involved parties are present at the same place and time. However, it is always best to ask the notary you have selected. They will be able to inform you of your state’s proper procedures.
What Types of Documents Require Notarization?
It is common for documents to require notarization if they deal with important legal or financial matters. These types of documents require a tremendous amount of trust in all of the different parties that are named in the document.
Documents that have the potential for fraud also may need a notary.
Some examples of documents that might require notarization include:
- Wills and trusts
- Transfers of title for cars or real estate
- Advanced directives
- Powers of attorney
- Handgun permits
- Loan closings
- Quitclaim deeds
- Residential loan documents
- Temporary guardianship agreement
- Bank transfer service forms
- Uniform consent to service of process
- Designating beneficiaries for a retirement account and death benefit
Whether or not a notary is required will depend on the laws of the state you live in. You can talk to your selected notary to discuss whether or not notarization is necessary.
How Notarization Works
It’s important to understand that getting a document notarized only means that the signature is legitimate. It isn’t expected or required for a notary to read through the documents you are signing. Additionally, it is not expected that they will provide legal advice or evaluate the document for you.
A notary won’t advise you regarding potential problems with the documents themselves. It is only their role to verify who a document was signed by and when.
A document might become official immediately after the notarization or it might not be. This depends on what is required to execute an agreement. You can seek the counsel of a local attorney regarding your local laws and your particular situation.
(Are you wondering what the difference is between a notary and a loan signing agent? If so, check out my article on the topic here!)
The Duties of a Notary
The job of a notary is to make sure that all of the signatures on a document are legitimate. They perform this duty through a series of careful checks which include:
- Verifying the identities of anybody signing a document and records the details of the documents provided to prove identification
- Look for signs of coercion to ensure that everyone signing the document is doing so at their own free will
- Verifying that signers are capable of sound decisions by looking for signs that a person is unable to understand what’s happening, intoxicated, or heavily medicated
If there are any potential issues in this regard, a notary will refuse to validate the document’s signature.
It is your responsibility to know what it is exactly that you are signing. It is possible to have a document notarized that isn’t enforceable under your state’s laws. It’s also possible to notarize a document that involves you in an activity that is illegal.
Getting a document notarized doesn’t automatically imply that the contract is legal or enforceable under your states law. Because a notary that isn’t an attorney cannot provide legal advice, you will want to verify the legitimacy and legality of documents before getting them notarized.
A Brief History of Notaries
All kinds of documents were notarized in the Old Kingdom of ancient Egypt, and subsequent civilizations followed suit using notaries to ensure the legitimacy of signatures.
Some believe that the first true notary in history was a Roman slave named Tiro. Notaries in the Roman Empire helped to prepare wills, contracts, and other essential documents. They played a vital role as literacy was not widespread at this time.
Between 1099 and 1307, notaries were very important in the business dealings of the Order of the Knights Templar. This was a monastic military order that eventually created the modern system of mortgages, banking, and loans.
Notaries did not become a part of English society, however, until the 13th and 14th centuries. This is because English common law actually developed quite separately from Roman law. Many notaries in the early days were members of the clergy and were often appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Papal Legate.
Over time, the role of the notary in England increasingly fell into the hands of laymen rather than clergy. At this point, the official functions and character of the modern Notary first emerged.
Notaries have played important roles throughout history. For example, there were notaries on Christopher Columbus’ voyages to the New World to make sure that every treasure was accounted for. Notaries also played an invaluable role in trans-Atlantic commerce during colonial times in early America.
Some famous folks also assumed the role of a notary. Mark Twain is known to have once been a notary, for example. Famous sons of notaries throughout history include Calvin Coolidge, Leonardo da Vinci, and Salvador Dali. Calvin Coolidge was actually sworn into office by his father, making him the only president in history that was sworn into the highest office by a notary.
The National Notary Association has assisted people in their effort to become notaries since 1957. The national leader in education and training, this nonprofit organization serves nearly 4.5 million members in the United States.
Mobile and Virtual Notary Services in the Time of COVID-19
Now that you know the answer to “what is a notary?” you can determine whether or not you need your documents notarized. The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic through a wrench in the gears of typical notary services with lockdowns around the country along with private and public organizations adjusting their business hours.
Remote electronic notarization has become a very reasonable option in the face of these challenges and changes. I also provide mobile notary services, traveling to you to notarize important financial or legal documents.
Are you in search of a notary in Idaho? If so, you can learn more about my services here.