Basic Notarial Duties
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.
• 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, roller ball, etc.).
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”).
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.
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.
REQUIRED ELEMENTS FOR A LAWFUL NOTARIZATION
In order to complete the notarial acts described above, notaries must first confirm that the following elements are present. If any of these elements are missing the notary cannot proceed:
• The document signer must be PERSONALLY PRESENT before the notary.
An essential element of the notarial act is personal, face-to-face communication between the document signer and the notary.
• The signer must be PERSONALLY KNOWN to the notary or must produce SATISFACTORY EVIDENCE OF IDENTIFICATION.
One of the notary’s main responsibilities is to determine, beyond all reasonable doubt, that the person who has come for a notarial act is the same person named in the document as the signer.
• The notary must be presented with an ORIGINAL document.
An original document is one that is unsigned, or that was/is physically signed in “wet ink” by the document signer. For example, an unsigned document may be faxed and subsequently signed by the document signer.
• The document presented for notarization must be COMPLETE.
The notary cannot perform a notarial act over a document that is missing pages, or that contains blanks that should be filled-in prior to the notarial act. •
The DOCUMENT DATE must be the same day as the notarization or earlier, but NEVER later than the day of notarization.
Notarial acts are performed only on “living” documents—those whose date is the same as or earlier than the date of notarization. A notarial act cannot be performed on a post-dated document, because technically the document does not yet exist.
• The document must display NOTARIAL LANGUAGE that clearly indicates the desired notarial act.
This is the notary’s primary means of determining the required notarial act. practicing
• The notary must feel assured that THE SIGNER COMPREHENDS the underlying transaction and is PROCEEDING WILLINGLY.
Notaries provide an invaluable service by assessing a signer’s comprehension and willingness. It is not uncommon for signers to execute a document under duress or coercion.
• The notary must/should complete a record book entry.
Many states require the notary to keep a record book of all notarial acts.
• The verbal ceremony must be performed.
Here's the essence of the notarization. In the case of a document requiring an acknowledgment, the verbal ceremony is the question that officially determines the client understands of the document and willingness to sign the document.
• A completed notarial certificate is required.
This certificate is the notarial wording or language which records and describes the events of the process of performing the notarial act. The wording may be printed on the document following the signer's signature, or it may be on a separate attached form, known as a "loose notarial certificate