What Is a Notary Public?

Notary Public: The Short Answer

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 been notarized.

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

HISTORY

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 theRoman 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 documents.

ROLE

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:

•Acknowledgements

•Affidavits

•Jurats

•Oaths

•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 public.

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