You may need a notary public to verify your signature on a legal document such as a will or power of attorney. But what is a notary and where can you find one?
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What Is a Notary Public?
A notary public (a “notary”) is someone who can certify the authenticity of signatures. In other words, they verify that the person signing a document is who they say they are. Depending on the state, a notary public can also administer oaths and perform other official functions.
State governments authorize them to perform these tasks. They typically undergo special training and testing to qualify for this role.
When verifying signatures, notaries have several duties. They act as a neutral party to make sure that you sign voluntarily. Further, they must verify your identity as the signer and authenticate your signature. They then sign and add a stamp, which includes the notary’s name, commission number, and expiration date of their commission. By performing these duties, notaries help prevent fraud, identity theft, and coerced signings.
Finding a Notary
Depending on where you live, it’s usually easy to find a notary public nearby. Many establishments in any town or city employ notaries.
Establishments where you might find a notary include:
- Post offices
- Shipping companies (such as FedEx or UPS)
- Lawyers’ offices
- Print and copy stores
- Real estate firms
- Accountants’ offices
- Hotel business service centers
Before you visit any of these places in hopes of notarizing a document, you should call them first. The notary may only be available during certain hours. Or they may notarize documents for customers only.
If you still need help finding a notary, contact your Secretary of State’s office. The Secretary of State is the government agency that usually handles notary commissions. They often provide a searchable database of registered notaries on their websites. Depending on the state’s website, you can generally search by location, commission number, or name.
Sometimes you may find it challenging to get to a notary during their working hours. If this is the case, you may find a notary who will come to you.
If you find it inconvenient to visit a notary public, you could try to find a traveling notary.
You can look at online advertisements to find a traveling or mobile notary. Websites like Craigslist and others are helpful for this purpose. Even a simple notary search on the internet may yield results. Try typing “mobile notary” and your town name into your favorite search engine. You will likely find several results of notaries who will travel to your home or place of business. Most notaries charge a travel fee, but the convenience could make it worthwhile.
Remote Online Notarization
Most states have passed laws permitting some form of remote online notarization. But the technological and legal requirements vary by state.
Remote online notarization is possible through technology that connects you with a notary via an audiovisual platform. With remote online notarization, you and your notary do not have to be present in the same location. The remote online notary will typically use a special online service that allows you and your notary to interact over a secure video call.
Of course, this is a much newer process than traditional in-person notarization. So, state laws are changing as technologies evolve. More states will likely begin considering this form of notarization after others have tested it.
Before using remote notarization, you should check your state laws to ensure that it is allowed where you live. You should also consult the requirements of the document you need to sign. Some parties might hesitate to accept notarized documents if you do not meet your notary in person. If you are still unsure whether remote online notarization is acceptable in your situation, you should talk to an attorney.
Notary Public FAQs
What do I need to bring to a notary?
When preparing to meet with a notary, you must gather all the documents that require notarization. It is best to wait to sign them until you are in front of the notary. For some documents, you have to acknowledge your signature before a notary. But for others, you must sign in the notary’s presence.
Bring a current form of identification (driver’s license, passport, or identification card) when meeting with a notary public. The notary will need this identification to ensure that you are who you say you are. You should contact the notary ahead of time to ask if they need any additional paperwork or identification.
Why would I need a notary?
You might need notary services for a variety of legal documents. In most states, certain sensitive legal documents require notarization. This ensures that the person signing the document is who they say they are. Some examples of documents that may need notarization include the following:
- Power of Attorney documents
- Living Wills
- Mortgage documents
- Loan documents
- Articles of incorporation
- Commercial leases
This is only a sample of the types of documents that may require notarization. Signing rules will vary by state.
For some documents, notarization is optional but may be a good idea. For example, notarizing important documents such as a power of attorney may not be required in your state. Still, you may want an independent source to verify your signature.
Additionally, in some states, a notary can assist you in making your last will and testament “self-proving.” To do this, your witnesses swear to an affidavit before a notary. A court can then automatically accept that your will is valid. This extra step may spare your witnesses from having to testify in court about your will. You should consider making your will self-proving if your state allows it.
Before signing anything, remember to double-check your document’s signing rules and your state’s laws. If you have concerns about the execution requirements of a binding legal document, speak to an attorney.
What do notaries charge?
A notary generally charges a fee for notary services. But the fees are usually reasonable. The National Notary Association provides a fee table to help you learn how much you will pay in your state. This table shows the state-determined maximums that notaries can charge for their services. They vary between $1 to $15 per document.
What other services can notaries perform?
Notaries can sometimes perform official duties beyond just authorizing documents and taking oaths.
For example, notaries can play an active role in depositions by swearing in the witnesses (the “deponents”).
It might surprise you that notaries can perform marriage ceremonies in a few states. These include Florida and South Carolina.
Notaries may also act as notary signing agents. This is a particular type of notary who specializes in handling loan documents. They often must undergo background checks to qualify for this role. Contact your lending institution if you need a notary signing agent for a loan document. They probably have affiliations with notary signing agents who can assist you.