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Glossary of Terms

Some commonly used Notary terms and abbreviations:

Acknowledgment: Act in which a Notary certifies having positively identified a document signer who personally appeared before the Notary and admitted having signed the document.

Administer: To give formally, as in “giving” an oath or affirmation.

Administrative Penalty: Punishment imposed by authorities who regulate Notaries, in the form of revocation, suspension or denial of a commission and, in some states, fines or mandatory education.

Affiant: Signer of an affidavit.

Affidavit: Written statement signed before a Notary by a person who swears or affirms to the Notary that the statement is true.

Affirmation: Spoken, solemn promise on one’s personal honor, with no reference to a Supreme Being, that is made before a Notary in relation to a jurat or other Notary act, or as a Notary act in its own right.

Apostille: Authenticating certificate required by Hague Convention that replaces a traditional chain of certificates.

Attorney in Fact: Person who has authority to sign for another.

Authentication: Process of proving the genuineness of the signature and seal of a Notary or other official, usually through attachment of a certificate of authority.

Awareness: Being able to understand what is happening and to act responsibly.

Bond: A Notary bond is a written guarantee that money up to a limit will be paid by a surety to a person financially damaged by a Notary’s misconduct in the event the Notary fails to do so.

Capacity: Specific role of a representative signer — attorney in fact, trustee, corporate officer, partner or other — when signing for another person, organization or legal entity.

Certificate: Wording completed, signed and sealed by a Notary that states the particulars of a notarization and appears at the end of a signed document or on a paper attached to it. Sometimes referred to as the “Statement of Particulars” or the “Notary block.”

Certificate Form: Notarial certificate wording on a separate sheet of paper that is attached to a document. Used when no wording is provided, when the provided certificate wording does not comply with state requirements, when there is no room for the seal on the document or when a preprinted certificate has already been used by another Notary.

Certificate of Authority: Paper stating that the signature and seal on an attached document belong to a legitimate Notary or other official. Also called a “Certificate of Capacity.”

Certificate of Prothonotary: Certificate of authority issued by a prothonotary — the equivalent of a county clerk in some states.

Certified Copy: Document certified by an official, such as a Notary, to be an accurate reproduction of an original.

Chain Certification: Traditional authentication procedure that requires sequential attachment of certificates of authority, each validating the genuineness of the preceding one.

Chain of Personal Knowledge: Knowledge of identity linking the Notary with the signer through a credible identifying witness to establish the signer’s identity. The Notary personally knows and can identify the credible witness, and the credible witness personally knows and can identify the document signer.

Civil Penalty: Payment of funds by a Notary resulting from a lawsuit to recover financial losses that were claimed to have been caused by the Notary’s misconduct.

Combined Acknowledgment Certificate: Acknowledgment certificate wording indicating a person signed in two or more representative capacities.

Commission: To authorize to perform notarial acts; written authorization to perform Notary acts that is issued by a state’s governor, secretary of state or other empowering official. Called an appointment in some states and jurisdictions.

Copy Certification: Act in which a Notary certifies that a copy of a document is a true and accurate reproduction of the original.

County Clerk: Official whose duties may include keeping a file of the bonds and signed oaths of office of Notaries, issuing certificates of authority for those Notaries and accepting custody of journals surrendered by those Notaries upon retirement. In some states called a “prothonotary.”

County Recorder: Official who registers deeds and certain other documents in the public record. In some states called a County Auditor.

Credible Identifying Witness: Believable person who identifies a document signer to the Notary after taking an oath or affirmation. The credible identifying witness must personally know the document signer and also be personally known by the Notary.

Custodian or Document Custodian: Keeper of a document.

Deed: Document transferring ownership of property and requiring notarization.

Deposition: Written statement used in a lawsuit that is transcribed from words spoken by a person (deponent) under oath or affirmation and that is usually signed by this person.

Disqualifying Interest: Advantage or potential advantage resulting in ineligibility to perform a Notary act.

Embosser Seal: Press-like device that imprints a raised image into a paper surface to form a Notary seal.

Errors and Omissions (E&O) Insurance: Contract between a Notary and an indemnity company whereby, in the event of a lawsuit against the Notary resulting from certain acts in performing a notarization, the company absorbs the Notary’s costs and financial liabilities up to an agreed limit.

False Certificate: Notary wording that contains incorrect information.

Guardian: Person with the lawful power and duty to manage the affairs of another individual; conservator.

Hague Convention: Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalization for Foreign Public Documents, a treaty signed by more than 90 nations, including the United States, that simplifies authentication of notarized documents sent between nations.

Identification Document (ID Card): Document or card which establishes the bearer’s identity. Examples include passports, driver’s licenses and nondriver’s IDs, among others.

Immigration Forms Specialist (IFS): Person who helps applicants for U.S. residency and citizenship complete immigration forms. An IFS may also help with translation and obtaining supporting documents, such as birth certificates. They may not offer legal advice or other services that an attorney would provide, such as representing a client in an immigration proceeding.

Impartiality: State of being unbiased; specifically, having no motive but to perform notarial duties legally and ethically.

Impartial Witness: Observer without bias; one who has no financial or beneficial interest in the transaction at hand.

Inking Seal: Device that imprints ink on paper to form a photocopiable Notary seal.

Journal Entry: Information recorded in a journal describing a particular notarization.

Journal of Notary Acts: A Notary journal is a detailed, chronological record of the Notary Public’s official acts.

Jurat: Act in which a Notary certifies having watched the signing of a document and administered an oath or affirmation.

Jurisdiction: Geographic area — a state or county — in which a Notary Public is authorized to perform acts.

Living Will: Written statement of a person’s wishes concerning medical treatment in the event the signer has an illness or injury and is unable to give instructions on his or her own behalf.

Long-Form Certificate: Standard or unabridged Notary certificate wording.

L.S.: Abbreviation of the Latin term locus sigilli, meaning “place of the seal.” Traditional element indicating where the seal imprint is to be placed.

Marriage: Act of uniting two people as spouses. Performed by Notaries only in Maine, South Carolina, Florida and Nevada.

Ministerial Official: Public officer who follows written rules without having to use significant judgment or discretion. A Notary is a ministerial official.

Nondriver’s ID: Identification document similar to a driver’s license issued by most states upon request to nondrivers, such as juveniles and the elderly.

Notary Acts, Notarizations: Witnessing duties of a Notary that are specified by law. Most often, the Notary’s duties involve signed documents and require the Notary to ensure a signer’s identity and/or to administer an oath or affirmation.

Notary Misconduct: Notary’s violation of a law, regulation, official directive or expected standard of honesty, care or good judgment, usually in executing a notarization.

Notary Public: Person of proven integrity appointed by a state government to serve the public as an impartial witness with duties specified by law. The Notary has the power to witness the signing of documents and to administer oaths.

Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility: Code of conduct for Notaries, developed by the National Notary Association.

Oath: Spoken, solemn promise to a Supreme Being that is made before a Notary in relation to a jurat or other Notary act, or as a Notary act in its own right.

Oath of Office: Oath promising to faithfully discharge the duties of a particular office.

Personal Appearance: Appearing in person, face to face, in the same room with the Notary at the time of the notarization — not before and not after.

Personal Knowledge: Familiarity with an individual resulting from random interactions over a period of time sufficient to eliminate every reasonable doubt that the individual has the identity claimed.

Power of Attorney: Document granting authority for a person to act as attorney in fact for another.

Principal: Person who is a signer of and party to a document.

Proof of Execution by Subscribing Witness: Act where a person (called the subscribing witness) states under oath or affirmation before a Notary that he or she either watched another individual (called the principal) sign a document or took that person’s acknowledgment of an already signed document. The witness must affix a signature to the document in addition to the principal’s.

Protest: Act in which a Notary certifies that a signer did not receive payment for a negotiable instrument.

Prove: Authenticate the signature of a principal signer not appearing before a Notary.

Publicly Recorded: Placed in the public record or filed with a county recorder as authentic.

Quality of Officer: Term sometimes appearing on Notary certificates and meaning “title of official,” such as “Notary Public.”

Reasonable Care: Degree of concern and attentiveness that a person of normal intelligence and responsibility would exhibit.

Representative Capacity: Status of signing or acting on behalf of another person or on behalf of a legal entity, such as a corporation, partnership or trust.

Representative Signer: Person with the legal authority to sign for another individual, organization or legal entity. Representative signing capacities include attorney in fact, trustee, corporate officer and partner.

Satisfactory Evidence: Reliable identification document, or the sworn or affirmed statement of a credible identifying witness, that satisfactorily proves that an individual has the identity claimed.

Seal of Notary: A Notary seal is an inking or embossing device that imprints the Notary’s name, title (Notary Public) and jurisdiction on a notarized document. Also may include such information as the county where the commission and bond are on file, commission number and date of commission expiration.

Short-Form Certificate: Notary certificate with abridged or condensed wording.

Signature by Mark: An “X” or other symbol made in place of a signature by a person unable to write and witnessed by a Notary and two other persons.

Signature by Proxy: Signature made on behalf of a principal by a Notary or third party who is not an attorney in fact. Notary signatures by proxy are allowed only in a few states.

Signature of Notary: Handwritten name of and by the Notary, matching exactly with the name on the Notary’s commissioning paper.

Signing Agent: A Notary who specializes in loan document assignments, performing courier duties for loan packages as well as notarizing the borrower’s signature on loan documents. Sometimes referred to as a “Notary Signing Agent” or “NSA.”

SS. or SCT.: Abbreviations of the Latin word scilicet, meaning “in particular” or “namely.” Traditional element appearing after or to the right of the venue in a Notary certificate.

Statutory Fee: Charge prescribed by law for services.

Subscribe: Sign.

Subscribing Witness: Person who either watches another (the principal) sign a document or takes that person’s acknowledgment of an already-signed document and appears before the Notary on behalf of the principal. The subscribing witness must sign the document in addition to the principal, must be personally known by the Notary and must take an oath or affirmation stating that he or she witnessed the principal sign or took the principal’s acknowledgment.

Substantially Complies: In agreement, but not necessarily verbatim.

Supplemental ID: Identification document that, alone, does not provide positive identification of a signer due to its lack of a photograph, the ease with which it may be counterfeited and the low level of security in its issuance.

Surety: Person or company obliged to pay money up to a limit in the event a bonded individual fails to do so; guarantor.

Swear: To make an oath; to state under oath. To make a solemn promise to a Supreme Being.

Testimonium Clause: Wording in a Notary certificate whereby the Notary formally attests to the facts. Typically phrased as, “Witness my hand and official seal.”

Unauthorized Practice of Law: Practice of law by a person who is not a legal professional. Illegal act of a nonattorney in helping another person to draft, prepare, complete, select or understand a document or transaction.

Venue: Wording in a Notary certificate that indicates the state and county where the notarization takes place.

Verification: Sworn or affirmed declaration that a statement or pleading is true.

Vital Record: Birth certificate, death certificate, marriage certificate or other public record of demographic data.

Will: Legal document containing a person’s wishes about disposition of personal property after death; short for “last will and testament.”

Willingness: Acting freely without duress or undue influence.

Witness: One who has personally seen something; to observe.

This glossary is an excerpt from The Complete How-To Guide For Notaries. NNA Members can access the entire Glossary for free by logging into MyNNA.

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