A notary is a public official appointed by the state to serve as an impartial witness. The services a notary is permitted to provide are limited by the state where she is commissioned, and the notary is typically only allowed to perform those services within the geographic bounds of that commission. Common services notaries can provide include administering oaths, affirmations and acknowledgements. Some states allow notaries to provide other services, such as taking depositions or even performing marriages.
The primary purpose for notaries is to serve as an official fraud determent, according to the National Notary Association. In that capacity, a notary can perform acknowledgement services. An acknowledgement involves the signing of official documents, such as deeds, contracts and powers of attorney. The signer of a document must acknowledge before the notary that the signature on the document is genuine, that he signed the document of his own free will apart from any coercion and that he understands the provisions of the document.
Oaths and Affirmations
Some legal documents involve a greater level of gravitas than others and require not only a signature but also an oath or affirmation by the signer that the information contained in the document is true. All states allow notaries to administer such oaths or affirmations. Unlike an acknowledgement, documents involving an oath or affirmation must be signed in the notary's presence.
Services a notary is permitted to provide vary by state. For example, notaries in Louisiana are allowed to hold meetings of creditors, while California allows notaries to take affidavits and depositions. Kentucky permits notaries to execute protests, while those in Wyoming can witness or attest signatures. Only the states of Florida, South Carolina and Maine allow notaries to solemnize the rites of matrimony.
One of a notary's primary responsibilities is positively establishing the signer's identity. This typically involves the signer providing satisfactory documentary evidence of his identity or the notary's personal knowledge of the signer. Some states allow notaries to notarize a signature without the signatory's presence, provided a person who witnessed the signing swears or affirms that the signature is genuine.
- Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images