What You Need to Know About Notarized Documents

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Important documents often need to be notarized. But what does that mean, and how can you get your documents notarized? While it may sound intimidating, the process is often as easy as a trip to your local bank, credit union, or shipping center.

Notarized Documents

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's job is to ensure that all signatures on a document are legitimate.

  • Identity verification: A notary requires identification from anybody signing a document and records details about the identification documents each individual provides.
  • Willing signers: Notaries are supposed to 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 should verify that signers are in a condition where they can truly understand what they’re signing. If an individual is intoxicated, heavily 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.

Derek Abella © The Balance 2019 

Bring 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

Bring an unsigned document to the notary—don’t sign it ahead of time. The notary needs to watch you sign, in most cases. If they don't witness your signature, they can't verify who signed the document.

Pay 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

Your local bank or credit union is an excellent place to find a notary. 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 often have notaries available. 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 can visit 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 practice is acceptable. Some situations, such as real estate transactions in certain states, require an in-person notary. 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 must verify your identity and record your signature by video. For example, the Notarize app offers Virginia notary services (which might 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—and nothing more. Notaries are not required to (or expected to) read through the material, evaluate it for you, or provide legal advice. Nor will your notary alert you to any problems you may be signing up for. 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. You can also get one that is not enforceable under your state’s laws and is therefore useless. It’s your responsibility to know what you're signing because notaries do 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.