What You Need to Know About Notarized Documents
Important agreements often need to be notarized. But what does that mean, and how can you get your documents notarized?
A notarized document is a document that has been certified by a notary public. The notary public is an official who verifies the identities of everybody signing the document, witnesses the signatures, and marks the document with a stamp (or “seal”).
A notary is supposed to ensure that all signatures on a document are legitimate.
- Identity verification: A notary requires identification from anybody signing a document, and will record details about the identification documents used by each individual.
- Willing signers: Notaries look for signs of coercion. Even if you don't like what's in a document, are you signing on your own free will, or is somebody forcing you to sign?
- Capable of sound decisions: A notary wants to make sure that signers are in a condition where they can truly understand what they’re signing. If an individual is intoxicated, medicated, or unable to understand what's happening for any reason, the notary cannot notarize the document.
A notary will refuse to validate a signature if there are any potential problems with the signer.
How to Get a Notarized Document
To get a document notarized, visit a notary public, prove your identity, and sign the document.
- Official identification: 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 typically do the trick, although requirements vary from state to state. If the notary is not confident that you are who you say you are, he or she can refuse to notarize your document. Nobody is required to notarize anything.
- Wait to sign: 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.
- Fees: Depending on 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 spend less than $20, and the cost might be as low as $5. Learn more about notary fees.
Where to Get a Letter Notarized
You can get legal forms notarized in a variety of places.
Financial institutions: A good place to find a notary is your bank or credit union. If you’re an account holder, the service might be free. Even if you don’t have an account with a particular financial institution, a notary there may be willing to notarize something for you for a small fee.
Other businesses: Local and big-name businesses are likely to have notaries. Call before making a trip, as services may vary from location to location.
- Shipping stores (FedEx 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 neighborhood convenience stores may employ somebody who is a notary.
Anywhere else: If you can’t easily find a notary, 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 home, office, or other location to assist with documents.
Online notary: It is possible to get documents notarized online, but you need 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 (particularly for a quick transaction when you're pressed for time), it may make sense to try notarizing online. When working online, the notary will verify your identity and record your signature by video. For example, the Notarize app offers Virginia notary services (which may be valid nationwide) for $25.
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.
What Does it NOT Mean to Have a Document Notarized?
Getting a notarized document means that a signature is legitimate—it does not mean anything else. Notaries are not required to read through the material and evaluate it for you, nor will they alert you to any problems. All they do is verify who signed a document, and when.
It’s possible to 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. It’s entirely up to you to know what you're signing because notaries will not provide legal advice.
Documents might or might not become official immediately after they’re notarized. If a valid signature is all it takes to execute an agreement, a properly signed and notarized document may do the trick. Ask a local attorney for guidance on your particular situation and local laws.