The following are descriptions of the most common notarial duties.
While ALL states allow their notaries to perform oaths/affirmations and acknowledgments, whether or not a notary may perform any other duties varies by state, depending on each state’s unique notary laws. Notaries are expected to know and honor what their state laws allow them to do.
Some document transactions require that the signer make a formal declaration before a notary, thereby “acknowledging” execution (signing) of the document. Specifically, the signer verbally acknowledges that:
• The signer understands the contents and purpose of the document;
• The signature is his/her own
• The document was signed willingly (no coercion)
Documents typically requiring an acknowledgment are contracts, deeds, agreements, powers of attorney, etc. These documents contain terms to which the signer is agreeing.
Documents requiring acknowledgment can be signed earlier than or at the time of notarization. Either way, the signature must clearly be an original one, stroked directly onto the paper with “wet” ink (ballpoint, rollerball, etc.).
If the document presented to the notary is unsigned, the notary should have the signer sign the document prior to administering the verbal ceremony (see below).
Having ensured that all the required elements for lawful notarization are present (see bullets at right), the notary will verbally ask the signer the following or similar:
“Do you acknowledge signing this document willingly, for the purposes stated in it?”
The signer will reply “Yes.” The notary will then complete the notarial act by filling out his/her notarial certificate, then signing and sealing the certificate.
Other document transactions require that the signer swear an oath or affirm to a notary, under penalty of perjury, that the contents of a document are true.
Oaths and affirmations differ, but have the same legal effect. When taking an oath, a person swears a pledge and invokes a Supreme Being (“I swear this is the truth, so help me God”). Persons who do not wish to invoke a Supreme Being in their pledge may make an affirmation (“I affirm this is the truth”).
Documents typically requiring an oath include written affidavits and applications—documents for which the signer/affiant has supplied a set of facts.
Documents requiring an oath or affirmation MUST be signed in the presence of the notary. This is dictated by the customary language of the jurat (notarial certificate for an oath/affirmation); for example, “Subscribed [signed] and sworn-to/affirmed before me this (date) day of (month), (year).”
The signer will be directed by the notary to sign the document prior to the verbal ceremony (see below).
If a document presented for an oath/affirmation has already been signed, the notary must require the signer to sign the document again, in the notary’s presence. A notation may be made, “Duplicate signature at notary’s request.”
Having ensured that all the required elements for lawful notarization are present (see bullets on preceding page), the notary will verbally ask the signer the following or similar:
(For an oath)
“Do you solemnly swear that the contents of this document are true, so help you God?”
(For an affirmation)
“Do you affirm that the contents of this document are true?”
The signer will reply “Yes.” The notary will then complete the notarial act by filling out the jurat (his/her notarial certificate), then signing and sealing the jurat.
Sometimes a notary is asked to simply witness an individual’s signing of an instrument (document) that requires neither an acknowledgement nor an oath/affirmation. States that allow a notary to witness signatures will specify so in their notary statutes.
For signature witnessing, a document signer will personally appear before a notary and will present the document to be signed. The notary will positively establish the identity of the signer through personal knowledge of the signer, or by examining satisfactory evidence of identification. The notary will next witness the signer signing the document, and will complete the appropriate notarial certificate. There is no verbal ceremony for this notarial act.
Some states allow their notaries to make or witness the making of a photocopy of an original document. The notary’s signed and sealed certificate, attached to the photocopy, attests to the genuineness of the photocopy.
The document to be copied must be an original document. It cannot be a copy itself.
Notaries are prohibited from certifying copies of documents whose true originals are vital or public records. These would include birth certificates, death certificates and marriage certificates. The originals of these documents reside with governmental entities such as county clerks or the state division of vital statistics. Only the governmental entity that holds the original public or vital record may produce certified copies.