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Understanding Notaries: What They Do and Why You Might Need One

Last updated 03/08/2024 by

SuperMoney Team

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Summary:
A notary public is a trained legal professional authorized to witness and authenticate the signing of important legal documents. They play a vital role in preventing fraud, ensuring the authenticity and legitimacy of documents, and providing an extra layer of protection and credibility. Notaries are widely available and affordable, making it easy to access their services for a range of legal needs, including buying or selling a property, creating a will, or signing a business contract.
When it comes to legal documents, ensuring their authenticity and proper execution is of the utmost importance. That’s where notaries come in. But despite the important role they play in the legal system, many people are still unsure of what notaries do and when they might need one.
In this article, we’ll provide an overview of what notaries are, what they do, and why you might need one for your own legal documents.

What is a notary public?

A notary public is a state-appointed official who serves as an impartial witness to the signing of important documents and verifies their authenticity. They play an important role in preventing fraud and ensuring that important documents are properly executed. Notaries are typically appointed by a state government and must undergo training and pass an exam to receive their commission.
Notaries are entrusted with the responsibility of verifying that the person signing the document is who they claim to be and that they’re signing the document of their own free will. They also ensure that the signers are aware of the contents of the document they’re signing and that they aren’t coerced or manipulated in any way.
Once the notary is satisfied that the signing process is legitimate, they’ll then add their official seal or stamp to the document. This certifies that the document was properly signed and witnessed. In some cases, a notary may also administer oaths or affirmations as part of their duties.
IMPORTANT! Remember that notaries do not provide legal advice, but rather, they simply ensure that legal documents are executed and witnessed. By doing so, they help prevent fraudulent activity and provide a level of assurance that the document will be recognized as valid in the eyes of the law.

What does a notary do?

Notaries play a crucial role in the legal system by serving as impartial witnesses to the signing of important documents. They verify the identity of the signer and ensure that the document is executed in accordance with state laws and regulations. Here are some of the specific things that notaries do:
  • Verify identity. Notaries verify the identity of the person signing the document by checking their government-issued identification, such as a driver’s license or passport.
  • Confirm willingness. Notaries ensure that the signer is signing the document of their own free will and isn’t coerced or manipulated in any way.
  • Witness signatures. Notaries witness the signing of the document and ensure that the signer is aware of its contents.
  • Administer oaths. In some cases, notaries may administer oaths or affirmations, such as in the case of a sworn statement or affidavit.
  • Certify documents. Once the person signs the document, the notary adds their official seal or stamp to the document, certifying that it has been properly executed and witnessed.
  • Keep records. Notaries must keep a record, or journal, of all the documents they notarize, including the name of the signer, the type of document, and the date it was signed.
Overall, notaries serve as impartial witnesses to the signing of important documents, ensuring that they’re properly executed and preventing fraudulent activity.

When do you need a notary?

There are many situations in which you might need a notary to witness the signing of an important document. Here are some common examples:
  1. Real estate transactions. When buying or selling a home, you may need to have certain documents notarized, such as the deed or mortgage documents.
  2. Power of attorney documents. A power of attorney document grants someone else the legal authority to act on your behalf in certain situations. Because of their significance, you’ll likely need these documents notarized to be valid.
  3. Wills. A will is a legal document that outlines how a person’s property and assets will be distributed after their death. Some states require that wills be notarized to be valid.
  4. Healthcare documents. Healthcare documents, such as living wills and medical power of attorney documents, may require notarization to be valid.
  5. Business documents. Notaries often have to notarize any type of business documents — such as articles of incorporation, partnership agreements, and contracts — for them to be legally binding.
  6. Vehicle transactions. When buying or selling a vehicle, certain documents, such as the title or bill of sale, may require a notary.
It’s important to note that not all documents require notarization, and the requirements for notarization may vary by state and by the type of document. If you’re unsure whether a document requires notarization, it’s a good idea to consult with a legal professional.

Benefits and risks of using a notary

While notaries can be helpful for many legal and financial transactions, there are also some potential downsides to using a notary.
WEIGH THE RISKS AND BENEFITS
Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks to consider.
Pros
  • Prevent fraud
  • Ensure legitimacy
  • Avoid legal issues
  • Increase credibility
  • Access to notary services
Cons
  • Cost
  • Accessibility
  • Limitations
  • Inaccuracy
  • Fraud
  • Limited recognition

Pros explained

  • Prevent fraud. Notaries play an important role in preventing fraudulent activity. By verifying the identity of the signer and ensuring that they’re signing the document of their own free will, notaries help ensure that the document is authentic and that it wasn’t tampered with.
  • Ensure legitimacy. Notaries also ensure that the document is properly executed in accordance with state laws and regulations, which helps ensure its legitimacy.
  • Avoid legal issues. By using a notary, you can help avoid legal issues down the line. Notarized documents are less likely to be challenged in court, since they’ve already been verified as legitimate by an impartial third party.
  • Increase credibility. Notarized documents carry more weight and credibility than those that aren’t notarized. This can be especially important in business and legal settings.
  • Access to notary services. Notary services are widely available and affordable, making it easy to find a notary who can witness the signing of your important documents.

Cons explained

  • Cost. While generally affordable, some notary services are expensive as the fees charged by notaries can vary widely. The cost may be particularly burdensome for individuals or small businesses with limited financial resources.
  • Accessibility. Notaries may not be readily available in all locations, particularly in rural or remote areas. This can make it difficult or inconvenient for people to access notary services when they need them.
  • Limitations. Notaries aren’t authorized to provide legal advice or assistance with complex legal matters. They’re only able to verify the identity of the signers and witness the signing of documents.
  • Inaccuracy. Notaries are human, and they can make mistakes or overlook important details. If a notary makes an error or fails to follow proper procedures, it can invalidate the notarization and create legal problems.
  • Fraud. While notaries should verify the identity of signers and witness the signing of documents, they can be subject to fraud or corruption. Some notaries have been known to falsify signatures or notarize documents without verifying the identity of the signers, which can create serious legal problems.
  • Limited recognition. Notarizations aren’t recognized in certain jurisdictions, and the requirements for notarizations can vary widely from one jurisdiction to another. This can make it difficult to use notarized documents in other states or countries.
Overall, notaries play a critical role in the legal system by serving as impartial witnesses to the signing of important documents. With their expertise and attention to detail, notaries help ensure that the signing of your important documents is a smooth and secure process.

FAQs

Who can be a notary in the UK?

In the UK, a notary public is a qualified lawyer who was appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. To become a notary, one must complete a rigorous training program and pass several qualifying exams. Notaries are subject to strict regulations and ethical standards to ensure that they provide impartial and reliable services to their clients.

Is a notary the same as a lawyer?

A notary is different from a lawyer, although some notaries may also be lawyers. A notary public does not provide legal advice or representation, but they do help ensure that legal documents are properly executed and meet the legal requirements for their intended use.

Key Takeaways

  • Notaries public are trained legal professionals authorized to witness and authenticate the signing of important legal documents.
  • Using a notary helps prevent fraud and ensure the authenticity and legitimacy of documents.
  • Notaries increase the credibility of legal documents, which can be especially important in business and legal settings.
  • Notaries are widely available and affordable, making it easy to access their services for a range of legal needs.

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