A Notary Public is a responsible person appointed by state government to administer oath, take acknowledgments and certify documents. The seal or stamp and signature of a notary public are necessary to attest to the oath of a person making an affidavit. They are also necessary to attest that a person has acknowledged that he/she executed a deed, power of attorney or other document, and is required for recording in public records. The Secretary of State of each state appoints notaries public for a specified term of years. A notary public must see proof of identity of those swearing and keep an official journal of documents notarized. The authority is good only in the state which appoints the notary.
Notaries are not responsible for the accuracy or legality of documents they notarize. Notaries certify the identity of signers. The signers are responsible for the content of the documents.
A Notary may refuse to serve people only if he/she is uncertain of a signer’s identity, willingness or general competence, or has a good reason to suspect fraud. Notaries should not refuse to serve anyone because of race, religion, nationality, lifestyle, or because the person is not a client or customer. Discrimination on any basis is not a suitable policy for a public official. A notary public cannot notarize a document that is incomplete or contains blanks.
A notary public is not an attorney and cannot give legal advice on immigration or any other legal issues. A Notary is forbidden from preparing legal documents or acting as a legal advisor unless he or she is also an attorney. Violators can be prosecuted for the unauthorized practice of law, so a Notary cannot answer your legal questions or provide advice about your particular document.
Documents are notarized to deter fraud and to ensure that the signers of documents are who they say they are. The Notary should also make sure that signers have entered into agreements knowingly and willingly.
For a document to be notarized:
- Document must contain text committing the signer in some way;
- Original signature of the document signer is a must;
- Document must contain notary “certificate/wording” on the document or on an attachment;
- The signer and the Notary Public must be physically close enough to see, hear, communicate with, and give identification documents to each other. A notary who notarizes a document without the person appearing before him/her may be charged with a misdemeanor and, if convicted, may be punished by imposition of a fine of not more than $1000.00 or imprisonment for not more than six months, or both.
- Certain affidavits, real estate deeds and other documents are required by law to be notarized and may not be legally binding unless they are properly notarized.
Some of the documents that may need notarization are:
- Corporate Documents
- Escrow Documents
- Financial Documents
- Health Documents
- Insurance Documents
- Loan Documents
- Parental Consent to Travel
- Personal Statements
- Power of Attorney
- Real Estate Documents
- Title Documents
The following I.D.’s are acceptable:
- Driver’s license or ID issued by the DMV
- U.S. Passport
- Foreign passport stamped by the US INS
- Driver’s license issued by Mexico or Canada
- U.S. military ID that contains all required elements
- Inmate ID issued by the California Department of Corrections (may only be used to identify prisoners who are in custody)
- ID cards issued by the USCIS (may only be used to identify signers on USCIS forms).
An identification document must meet the following criteria:
- Be current or, if expired, issued in the last five years.
- Government ID State of California or any city or county within the state.
- Contain the document signer’s photo, physical description and signature.
- Bear a serial or other identifying number.
It is a Notary Public’s direct responsibility to always practice reasonable care by:
- Exercising common sense
- Obeying all the Notary laws
- Never engaging in the unauthorized practice of law by preparing documents, giving advice and choosing notary wording for the signer.