What is a Notary Public?
A Notary Public is an official of integrity appointed by state government —typically by the secretary of state — to serve the public as an impartial witness in performing a variety of official fraud-deterrent acts related to the signing of important documents. These official acts are called notarizations, or notarial acts.
Why are documents notarized?
To deter fraud. An impartial witness (the Notary) ensures that the signers of the documents are who they say they are and not impostors. The Notary makes sure that signers have entered into agreements knowingly and willingly.
Is notarization required by law?
For many documents, yes. Certain affidavits, real estate deeds and other documents may not be legally binding unless they are properly notarized.
How does a Notary identify a signer?
Generally, the Notary will ask to see a current identification document that has a photograph, physical description and a signature.
Acceptable forms of ID in the State of Florida are:
• Florida driver’s license or identification card issued by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles
• Driver’s licenses or non-driver’s ID issued by another U.S. state or territory
• Driver’s license officially issued in Mexico or Canada
• Foreign passport if stamped by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
• ID card issued by the USCIS – the most common is the Permanent Resident ID or green card.
• U.S. military ID
• U.S. passport issued by the U.S. Department of State
• Inmate ID issued on or after January 1, 1991, by the Florida Department of Corrections or Federal Bureau of Prisons (for identification of individuals currently in custody)
• A sworn, written statement from a sworn law enforcement officer explaining that an inmate’s ID was confiscated upon incarceration, and that the person named in the document is the person whose signature is to be notarized
Does notarization mean that a document is “true” or “legal”?
No. Notaries are not responsible for the accuracy or legality of documents they notarize. Notaries certify the identity of signers. The signers are responsible for the content of the documents.
May a Notary give legal advice or draft legal documents?
Absolutely not. A Notary is forbidden from preparing legal documents for others or acting as a legal advisor unless he or she is also an attorney.
May a Notary refuse to serve people?
Only if the Notary is uncertain of a signer’s identity, willingness or general competence, or has a good reason to suspect fraud.
May a Notary notarize for an individual with no identification?
Yes. If the identification of a signer cannot be based upon personal knowledge or identification documents (ID cards), a Notary may rely upon the oath or affirmation of one personally known credible identifying witness or two credible identifying witnesses who are unknown to the Notary but have acceptable identification themselves, to identify an unknown signer.
Can a photograph be notarized?
No. To stamp and sign a photograph is improper. However, a signature on a written statement referring to an accompanying or attached photograph may be notarized; if the photograph is large enough, the statement and notarial certificate may appear on its reverse side. Such a format may be acceptable when notarize photos are requested by individuals seeking medical or health licenses, or by legal residents renewing foreign passports.
Can signatures on faxes or photocopies of documents be notarized?
Yes. A photocopy may be notarized as long as it bears an original signature, meaning that the photocopy must have been signed with pen and ink. A photocopied signature may never be notarized.
Can a copy of a birth certificate be certified?
No. Copies of documents that are either vital records or public records should never be certified by Notaries. Only an officer in a Bureau of Vital Statistics should certify a copy of a birth certificate or other vital public record.
Does a document have to be signed in the presence of a Notary?
Documents requiring acknowledgments do not need to be signed in the Notary’s presence. However, the signer must appear before the Notary at the time of notarization to acknowledge that he or she freely signed for the purposes stated in the document.
Documents requiring a jurat must be signed in the Notary’s presence, as dictated by the typical jurat wording, “Subscribed (signed) and sworn to before me…” A jurat certificate indicates that the signer personally appeared before the Notary, was identified by the Notary, signed in the Notary’s presence and was given an oath or affirmation by the Notary.