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How to Prepare for a Notarization

If you are a member of the public who needs to have a document notarized, there are several steps you need to meet so that the Notary Public can legally handle your request. Many states laws require these steps, otherwise the Notary must refuse the notarization request. This short guide will help you prepare for a smooth notarization.

Know What Type of Notarization You Need

Generally, notarizations come in three basic forms: acknowledgments, jurats and copy certifications. You must be able to tell the Notary what type of notarization you need because, as a ministerial official appointed by the state, a Notary cannot advise you on the type of notarization you need. Make sure you review the types of notarial acts available to you before you visit the Notary, and confirm with the document drafter or receiving agency what type of notarization they require. If in doubt, you may contact an attorney for guidance.

Make Sure the Document Is Complete

Generally, a document must be complete without any blank spaces for a Notary to perform a notarization. If there are blank spaces on a document, for example a critical date or an interest rate, the document could be susceptible to fraud after a notarization is performed. Many states require a Notary to refuse a notarization on an incomplete document or tell the customer that the document must be completed before it can be notarized.

Make Sure All Signers Are Present For the Notarization

A signer must be physically present before a Notary in order to have their signature on a document notarized. Be sure that any person whose signature needs notarization is available and can attend your appointment with the Notary. A Notary cannot notarize a person’s signature over the phone or on a Skype or FaceTime video call. 

Be Aware and Willing

One of the basic duties of a Notary is to screen document signers for willingness and awareness. That means a Notary will check that you are mentally aware and alert at the time of the notarization, and that you are signing the document voluntarily and not under duress. While this is important for persons of all ages, it is particularly so for the elderly or infirm. If you do not know what your transaction is about, or you aren’t sure you want to sign, take steps to address these issues before you go to the Notary.

Have a Valid identification

The primary duty of a Notary Public is to verify your identity as a document signer. The most common way they do that is by checking state-issued identification documents, like driver’s licenses and passports. In general, a Notary needs to be presented with an identification document that meets the requirements of your state’s Notary laws. If you do not have one, you may be able to use what is called “credible identifying witnesses” — a person who is willing to swear to the Notary that he or she knows you. If you have any question about your identification, it’s best to resolve the issue or have witnesses present when the Notary arrives.

Make sure your name on the ID matches the name on the document

If you’ve recently changed your legal name due to marriage, divorce or other reasons, be sure that any ID you bring to the notarization matches your name on the document. If there’s a significant discrepancy — for example, your married name appearing on the document is “Mary Smith-Williams” but your ID uses your maiden name of “Mary Smith” — then the Notary will not be able to proceed with the notarization unless you can provide an alternate acceptable form of identification that matches the name on the document.

Understand that the Notary cannot advise you on legal matters

Notaries who are not qualified attorneys are strictly prohibited from giving legal advice to signers. Notaries are not allowed to advise you on the legal effects of a document, fill in any part of the document except the notarial certificate wording or choose what type of notarial act is needed on your behalf.

Due to widespread problems of people being victimized by fraudulent immigration consultants, be aware that many states prohibit Notaries from advertising or offering legal assistance with immigration matters. Many states also prohibit Notaries from advertising using foreign-language translations of their title, such as Notario Publico in Spanish, as this is a common practice by con artists seeking to take advantage of immigrant customers.

Know what you will be paying

In most states the maximum fees Notaries may charge are set by law. You may wish to check your state Notary regulating agency’s website (usually the Secretary of State’s office) to find out what the fees are. Travel fees for mobile Notary services may or may not be governed by state law. Most mobile Notaries will charge a travel fee and that fee is up to the Notary to decide. If you need the services of a mobile Notary who is traveling to your location, make sure you discuss and agree on the travel fee before the Notary travels to meet with you.

Now that I know how to prepare, how can I find a Notary?