Notary Public Definition and Information

Notary Public
Notary Public Dfinition. Orchidpoet/Getty Images

What is a Notary Public?

A notary public (pl., notaries public) is a public official who is given the authority to acknowledge signatures, take depositions, affirm affidavits, certify copies of documents, administer oaths, and issue subpoenas. Basically, a notary public is an official witness to a signature, attesting to the fact that the person signing a document is (a) the right person and (b) that the person is not signing under duress, of his or her free will.

The notary may ask the person to take an oath or may have the signer read an affidavit aloud. 

What Does a Notary Public Do?

Notaries public receive an appointment, called a "commission," from a state; duties vary from state to state and notaries usually are not permitted to work outside their state.

Some states permit notaries to perform civil marriage ceremonies. 

In the U.S., the state of Louisiana and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico have a different kind of notary public who has broader powers. 

How Does Someone Become a Notary Public? 

Many businesses have notaries for a variety of purposes. The notary can witness business documents and may also witness personal documents for employees. (Remember that a notary is paid for each notary act.)

In most cases, an individual can become a notary by filling out an application and submitting a fee, although some states require an examination. 

Some states bar someone from becoming a notary because of certain types of criminal convictions, and notaries usually must meet age requirements.

Some states require the notary to include the county of their commission in the documents they notarize. In most states, a notary commission must be renewed periodically. Some states require a notary to be able to speak and write English. 

For more information on the process for becoming a notary, see this website for the National Notary Association.

You will need to select a specific state to see the requirements and process for that state. 

How Much Do Notaries Charge? 

Notary fees vary by state and by circumstances. Justin Pritchard,Banking/Loans expert, says: 

Notaries are allowed to charge whatever they think is fair (while following any state-mandated rules), and additional fees for travel are common -- you have to pay more for convenience.