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A notary public is a public servant appointed by the government to act as an impartial witness in the signing of legal documents. In the United States, they are often appointed by the Secretary of State or county where they live or work. Their role is to verify the identities of the signatories and to ensure that the document is signed willingly and without any duress or coercion. Notaries are commonly found in law offices, banks, and other professional settings.

Here are some of the most common tasks performed by notaries:

Verifying the identity of signatories:

One of the primary responsibilities of a notary is to confirm the identity of the individuals who are signing a legal document. Notaries typically require signatories to present a government-issued ID, such as a driver’s license or passport, in order to confirm their identity.

Witnessing the signing of documents: Notaries must be present when the document is signed by the relevant parties. They will watch the signatories sign the document and then add their own signature and seal to the document to verify that they witnessed the signing. In Pennsylvania and other states, if the notarial act is an acknowledgement, the notary does not need to personally witness the signature. However,  the signer must physically appear before the notary and acknowledge that they signed the document. 

Certifying copies of documents:

In some cases, individuals may need certified copies of legal documents. Notaries are often forbidden from certifying copies of vital records, diplomas, and other specific documents that are normally certified by the issuing agency. Notaries can certify these copies by comparing them to the original document or personally making the copy and then adding their signature and seal to the copy with the appropriate notarial certificate. 

Administering oaths and affirmations: 

Notaries are authorized to administer oaths and affirmations, which are statements that a person makes under penalty of perjury. For example, if you need to swear to the truthfulness of a statement, they can administer an oath that you must swear to. Many documents require that the signer take an oath. This includes if you are submitting an affidavit or a declaration to a court or government agency. This is often called a verification on oath or affirmation or a Jurat. 

Providing notarial acts for international use: 

Notaries may also be authorized to provide certain notarial acts that are required for documents that will be used in other countries. The documents will then need to be sent to the government agency (typically the secretary of state in which the notary is commissioned) to verify that the notary was authorized to preform the notarial act. This is referred to as an “Apostille”. 

State Differences:

Across all 50 states, notaries can provide different services to their clients. It is important to know that a notary in one state may not be able to perform the same acts as a notary in another. Surprisingly, notaries in Florida, Maine, Nevada, and South Carolina may preform marriages in their capacity as a notary. In Louisiana, notaries have to take a rigorous exam and can preform many legal functions that notaries in other states are forbidden from doing. They are considered “civil law” notaries. Some states require notary journals while others do not. Currently the following states require notaries to keep journals for all notarial acts: Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

In summary: 

Notaries play an important role in the legal system by ensuring that legal documents are properly executed and verified. They can certify copies, notarize documents that will be used internationally, administer oaths or affirmations, and verify the identify of the signer. There are many different services that can be provided depending on your state. Be sure to consult a local notary for any needs you may have! 

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