In the U.S., a notary public is a person appointed by a state to authenticate (notarize) the signing of critical documents. Notarization of certain documents is required to increase public trust, prevent fraud, and ensure that the signers of a document are who they say they are.
Despite the important services that notaries perform, many people do not have a clear understanding of exactly what they do. Here are 9 common myths about notaries and the truth about what they do:
Myth #1: Notaries can give legal advice and help draft documents.
Despite what many people think, notaries are not attorneys and cannot give legal advice or draft legal documents. The only exceptions would be if the notary was also an attorney acting in a legal capacity for a client, which sometimes happens since many attorneys are also notaries. Many paralegals are also notaries and are qualified to draft legal documents as well.
Myth #2: It is easy to be a notary.
People who have used the services of a notary public often have a distorted view of what they actually do. Rather than just signing and stamping documents, notaries need to have a basic understanding of the paperwork they are being asked to notarize, the type of notarial act required, and the specific notarization language that must be used correctly on the document.
Myth #3: Nobody oversees what a notary actually does.
Notaries are appointed by a state government to serve as an impartial witness when important documents are signed. They have legal responsibilities and may be subject to repercussions if they fail to follow the protocol mandated by their state.
In most cases, a notary cannot act outside their home state unless they have a commission there as well.
Myth #4: Notaries are required to provide their services whenever they are requested.
While it is rare that a notary will refuse to provide services, there are circumstances when they are legally required to do so, such as:
- If they suspect fraud on the part of the signers or the document.
- If they cannot verify the signer’s identify with some form of authentic identification.
- If they believe a signer is being coerced into signing a document unwillingly.
Notaries should never refuse service to someone because of race, religion, national origin, sexual preference, or because they are not a client or customer, since discrimination on any basis is not a suitable practice for a public official.
Myth #5: Notaries are obsolete.
A person who is rarely exposed to legal paperwork might have the incorrect belief that the services a notary provides are no longer necessary. However, many businesses frequently require the notarization of documents, including mortgage lenders, loan officers, title companies, and law firms, making access to a notary more important than ever.
Myth #6: Notarization makes a document legal.
Contrary to popular belief, when a document is notarized, the notary is verifying the identity of the person who signed it and that they were not under duress. Notaries are not responsible for the legality of the documents they notarize.
Myth #7: Notaries provide their service for free.
While notaries are not required to charge a fee for their services, fees are actually set by state law. Notaries are free to charge any fee up to the maximum allowed by their respective state, and notarization costs can vary widely, depending on the services performed and the state.
Myth #8: Any document can be notarized.
For a document to be notarized, it must contain language that commits the signer in some way, require an original signature by the signer of the document, and contain a notarial certificate on the document itself or in an attachment.
Myth #9: Notaries can prepare or offer advice for filling out immigration forms.
Notaries are eligible to provide services to the public, not just U.S. citizens, however, no one, including notaries, may help prepare or file someone else’s immigration paperwork, unless they are acting in the capacity of an attorney or an accredited representative approved by the Justice Department.
However, a notary can serve as an immigration forms specialist if they meet their state’s requirements for both.
Do you know of any other myths about notary publics? Tell us about them in the comments!