What is a notary, and what do they do?

Understanding what a notary, also known as a notary public, is and the duties he or she may perform may seem a bit difficult to understand at first, as notaries execute many actions. However, after gaining some basic knowledge about what a notary is and what they do, one may discover that becoming a notary is a career they are interested in pursuing.

A notary public is a public officer appointed by a state government—typically by the secretary of state—to serve the public as an impartial witness in conducting many official fraud-deterrent acts related to signing important documents. These official acts are known as notarizations or notarial acts. The central duty of a notary is to verify the identity and capacity of the signer involved in the transaction, to deter fraud, and ensure they are the document signing of their own free will. Notaries are required to adhere to written regulations without the involvement of a judicial officer.

Notaries fulfill their duties through several actions, such as:

• Administering oaths and affirmations: Notaries are empowered to administer oaths and affirmations, which are solemn promises of truthfulness made by a signer, witness, or new office holder.

• Taking acknowledgments: Notaries certify that a signer personally appeared before them, was identified by the notary, and acknowledged signing the document.

• Performing jurats: A jurat is part of an affidavit in which the notary certifies that the document was “sworn” or “affirmed” before them.

• Certifying copies of documents: Notaries may also certify that a photocopy is a true and accurate reproduction of the original document. Please note that obtaining a certified copy does not guarantee its authenticity. It simply attests that the replica is a valid reproduction of the original.

• Witnessing signatures: Notaries can be asked to witness signatures to affirm that a specific individual signed the document.

• Taking depositions or affidavits: A deposition involves taking an oral statement of a witness under oath before a trial. An affidavit is a written statement made under oath.

• Verifying VINs: Some notaries are authorized to verify Vehicle Identification Numbers for the Department of Motor Vehicles.

• Performing notarial acts for maritime or other specialized industries: Notaries may have additional responsibilities exclusive to maritime law or other specialized fields.

• In addition to these roles, notaries are often involved in international business transactions. A notary might help authenticate the validity of a document, so it is recognized in a foreign country, a process called “apostille”.

• In some states or regions, notaries might also perform marriage ceremonies.

It is crucial to understand that the roles, responsibilities, and powers of a notary can differ worldwide and even within different states of countries such as the United States. Although some notarial tasks may seem similar, it is essential to remember that a notary public in the United States is not a lawyer, judge, or high-ranking government official. Some jurisdictions may grant notaries more extensive legal powers, while others may be more restrictive. In certain countries, notaries receive training in drafting legal documents and offering legal counsel—responsibilities uncommon to notaries in the United States. Always check your local guidelines to understand the full scope of a notary’s duties.

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