When and Why Should You Use A Notary?

Virtually anyone who lives a normal American life has had a document notarized. It's a procedure that is used in many of the routine processes of buying and selling, inheriting and deeding, proving identification and a hundred other reasons. In all of these situations, having the witness of a notary public gives you a powerful risk management tool to protect you.

In a nutshell, a notary is a third-party witness whose seal indicates that he or she saw the signatures and that those who signed did so willingly and without duress.

The notary's seal does not connote that the party or parties who signed understood what was in the document and a notary is not a policeman responsible for the content, although there is a tacit understanding that the notary will attempt to help the party involved in a transaction to understand what is happening.

Having a document notarized is a deterrent to fraud. It adds a layer of verification that the persons alleged to have signed are who they said they are. In many states, certain documents must have notary participation. They might include deeds, mortgages, easements, powers of attorney and living wills. In some states, a court will not consider as evidence an affidavit that is not notarized.

Notarized documents are self-authenticating, so the signers do not need to testify in court relative to the authenticity of their signatures. It becomes a great strategic advantage when litigation is necessary.

Each state has its own set of rules and regulations and sets the parameters of the notary's responsibilities.

People requesting notarization of a signature need to remember that it must be done in the presence of the notary. A signer can't put his/her signature on the document and then ask the notary to add the seal. Some states require the notary to specify how he/she verified the identity of the signer, a photo ID, for instance.

State laws also determine how much a notary may charge for services. In some states, licensed attorneys automatically have notary status. They have to abide by the same rules and regulations as non-lawyer notaries.