Notary Public: The Short Answer
A notary public is a certified official that is capable of acting as a
reliable, impartial witness for the signing of important documents. A
notary public is also able to administer oaths and may have other
official capacities depending on the jurisdiction.
In the United States, most notary publics charge a nominal fee for their
services. Notary publics dispense their official duties by marking
documents with their signatures and a distinctive embossed stamp or
inked seal. A document which has been witnessed by a notary public has
Notary Public: Benefits
The benefits of using a notary public are simple. By certifying the
veracity of the signing parties, the notary provides an inexpensive way
for organizations and individuals to enter into contracts and conduct
business with a reasonable assurance that the notarized documents will
be recognized in court.
Using a notary public is a way to protect against fraud, as the notary
is responsible for requiring the signer of a legal document to establish
his or her identity. Although this is not conclusive proof of identity,
it provides reasonable evidence of identity so that every day business
can be conducted. A notary also acts as a disinterested third party for
parties entering into a legally binding agreement.
Notary Public: More Info, Please
The concept of a notary is as old as the Western concept of civil law,
which has its beginnings in the courts of Rome. As the Roman legal
system became more codified, the law courts became more and more reliant
on the use of scribes for maintaining the court records. These scribes
developed a system of legal shorthand, called notae. In time, a legal
scribe earned the name notarius.
The name has been handed down through the centuries, living on past the
fall of the Roman Empire. During the Middle Ages, the role of the notary
public was often taken by the clergy, who were charged with recording
private and public transactions, as well as drawing up official
Today, a notary public's duties are somewhat different than the duties
of a notarius. In the United States, a notary public has been authorized
by a specific body, usually a state government, to perform the services
of a notary. These duties are usually confined to the witnessing of
documents and the administration of oaths. Some states also allow notary
publics to certify copies of official documents
Two of the most common documents that a notary public will witness have
to do with the sale or transfer of real property and the granting of
power of attorney. A few examples of the documents that a notary public
can officially witness include the following:
§ Formal protests
Some states give notary publics significantly more duties. For example
notary publics in Louisiana are able to perform most of the duties that a
lawyer can provide with the exception of representing another person
before a court. Three states--Florida, Maine and South Carolina--allow
notary publics to solemnize a marriage ceremony.
Some states will require the notary public to maintain a record of
official acts. Although keeping a journal of official acts performed is
not mandated by all states, many professional notary organizations
recommend that all notaries keep records of their actions.
SIDEBAR: Legal Language
Ever wonder why legal documents are about as clear as mud?
The wording of legal document has to abide by certain customs and
restrictions in order to have any binding effect in a court of law. This
wording is called acceptable language.
SIDEBAR: Documents and Definitions
Know your jurat from your acknowledgement? Here are the definitions of some of the common documents handled by a notary public.
Acknowledgement: A legal declaration of an act.
Affidavit: A sworn statement of fact
Jurat: A part of an affidavit containing the oath or affirmation.
Becoming a Notary Public
In the United States, each state is responsible for commissioning notary
publics to practice within its jurisdiction. In general, the
requirements for becoming a notary public are relatively easy to meet.
In most states, an applicant must be at least 18 years of age. Most
states charge a small fee as part of the application process. Some
states require satisfactory performance on an exam before commissioning
the notary officer. In some states, the notary is required to hold a
bond as insurance in case of a lawsuit leveled against the notary
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