Common Misconceptions About Notaries

By Melissa Haley—There are some common misconceptions about notarizations. Some of the more prevalent are detailed below. Many people think notaries can review documents, discuss their contents and give advice. This is not the case. Most states even require their notaries to post a disclaimer on all advertising such as, “I am not an attorney in this state, cannot get legal advice or receive payment for advice.”

A notary witnesses a signature, not a document. The notary’s primary role is to act as an impartial witness to the signing of a document. The act of notarization is the statement from the notary on the document that the signer did one of two things in their presence. The signer has either 1. verbally acknowledged that they have signed of their own free will and act or deed, (Acknowledgement) or 2. verbally stated, under oath, that the information contained within the document that they have signed is true and accurate to the best of their knowledge and belief (Jurat). The notary then completes the correct form for the act they have performed.

The notary cannot decide which form is appropriate for a document. Most forms come to the notary with the correct format pre-printed on the document. The notary may attach a loose certificate to the document, in the same format as pre-printed, if the pre-printed wording is not as prescribed by state law, if there is not enough room on the document to complete the notarization or if it is in a foreign language in which the notary is not literate. Lacking pre-printed wording, the signer has the responsibility to know which format is required for the document presented.

Notaries generally cannot notarize their own signature. Common sense tells us that a person cannot appear before himself or herself, put themselves under oath or witness their own signature. The trick is for the notary to watch the language used within the document for clues as to whose signature is being notarized. Just because a document contains notarial wording doesn’t necessarily mean it can be notarized.

The notary needs to be aware of what is being notarized within the document. The person signing should know what the document is for, how to complete it and what format the document requestor requires to be completed in the notarization. Notarization does not make a document legal or true. It merely attests to the fact that the signer appeared before the notary and records the verbal statements made by the signer at that time.