What is a Notarized Document?

How and Where to get Something Notarized

Businesswoman reaching for paperwork
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Important agreements often need to be notarized, but what does that mean and how can you get your documents notarized?

Notarized Documents

A notarized document is a document that has been marked with a stamp (or “seal”), which indicates that the signature on the document is legitimate. A notary watches you sign and then places the stamp near your signature (along with information which allows others to track down records related to the signature).

This tells the bank that you really signed the document – it wasn’t somebody else posing as you. In the age of identity theft and lawsuits, it’s important to know who really signed that important document.

In addition to verifying your identity, a notary is supposed to look for signs of trouble: are you signing the document willingly (even if you don't like what's in it) or is somebody forcing you to sign? A notary will refuse to validate a signature if signs of coercion are present. Likewise, a notary wants to make sure that you're in a condition where you can truly understand what you're signing. If you are intoxicated, medicated, or unable to understand what's happening for any reason, a notary should refuse to notarize the document.

How to Get a Notarized Document

How do you get something notarized? Simply sign it in front of a notary public (a person who is authorized to notarize documents).

The notary will ask for identification to verify that you really are who you say you are. You’ll need official identification with a photograph – a driver’s license, passport, or other government-issued ID will generally do the trick, although requirements vary from state to state. If the notary is not confident that you are the person in question, he or she can refuse to notarize your document – nobody is required to notarize anything.

Be sure to bring an unsigned document to the notary (don’t sign it ahead of time). The notary needs to watch you sign in most cases.

Depending where you go to get legal documents notarized, you may have to pay a modest fee. Notaries have to spend money to operate as a notary, they have to keep up with changing laws, and they have to keep records, so don’t be surprised if you’re asked to pay a fee. Typically you’ll pay less than $20, and it might be as low as $5. Learn more about notary fees.

Depending on your state, notaries may be required to study, attend training sessions, and pass exams. However, some states have minimal requirements to become a notary public.

Where to Get a Letter Notarized

You can get legal forms notarized in a variety of places.

Financial institutions: a good place to start is your bank or credit union. If you’re an account holder, the service might even be free. Even if you don’t have an account with a financial institution, a notary there may be willing to notarize something for you – for a small fee.

Businesses: local and big-box businesses are likely to have notaries. Call before making a trip, as services may vary from location to location.

  • Shipping stores (FedEx Kinkos and UPS stores, for example)
  • Office supply retailers (OfficeMax or Staples, for example)
  • Check cashing and money transfer stores
  • Tax preparers and law offices often have a notary on staff (if you need a document notarized for your attorney, just ask if they can do it in-house)
  • Car dealers and even neighborhood convenience stores may employ somebody who is a notary

Anywhere else: if you can’t find anybody easily, search online for a “notary public” with your city name. You'll probably be surprised at how many there are. Mobile notaries will often travel to your location.

Online notary: it is possible to get documents notarized online, but you'll want to verify that this is acceptable before doing so. Some situations, such as real estate transactions in certain states, require an in-person signature. In other situations (especially for a quick transaction when you're pressed for time), it may make sense to try notarizing online.

The notary will verify your identity and record your signature by video. The Notarize app offers Virginia notary services (which may be valid nationwide) for $25.

What Does it NOT Mean to Have a Document Notarized?

Having a document notarized means that a signature is good. It does not mean much else. Notaries are not required to read through the document and evaluate it for you, nor will they alert you to any problems; all they do is verify who signed a document on what date.

You can get a notarized document that involves you in illegal activity, or one that is not enforceable under your state’s laws (and is therefore useless), so it's up to you to know what you're signing. Notaries will not provide legal advice.