What Exactly Does a Public Notary Do?

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Many people may not be sure what a public notary does. They go by several different names: public notary, notary public, or just notary. These are all the same thing. A notary public is a person who is an official, sworn in and bonded, by the Secretary of State. Depending on the state, the process of becoming a notary public can vary slightly.

A notary public is a public officer serving a state government. The primary job duty of a notary is to help prevent fraud by witnessing the signing of documents and verifying their authenticity. In order to verify the person’s identity, the notary public will check the person’s photo identification. They will also confirm that the person signing the document, or documents fully understands what they are signing, and is not being forced (or also known as under duress). However, beyond these universal job duties that every notary public performs, some lesser-known duties are also performed by notaries.


A Public Notary Will:

• Administer an oath to the signer(s) if one is required by the document;

• Have enough of a conversation with the signer(s) to be reasonably sure they are signing freely and willingly;

• Prepare and authenticate powers of attorney for use overseas, such as foreign wills and documents to deal with the administration of the estates of people who are abroad, or owning property abroad;

• Verify that all of the notary-specific elements of the document are present, correct any that are incorrect, complete any that are incomplete, and add any that are missing;

• Authenticate personal documents and information for immigration or emigration purposes, or to apply to marry or to work abroad, such as education or professional qualifications or declarations of freedom to marry;

• Authenticate company and business documents and transactions or providing certificates to the status of a company or the identity of its directors;

• Place their official seal and/or signature on the document (if required by their state to do so).

When Do You Need a Public Notary?

There is a number of official documents that require a notarized signature. Only a Notary can perform this service. The Notary witnesses your signature and verifies that they confirmed your identity and that you were the person who signed the document.

Examples of documents that may need notarized:


  • Documents for personal use, such as passports, academic transcripts, and citizenship certificates
  • Contracts that relate to the sale of foreign property or businesses, or sales with an overseas vendor / purchaser
  • Home mortgage closings feature a number of legal documents which must signatures in front of a witness
  • Documents for international trademark or copyright, patent applications and infringements
  • Company constitutions and accompanying documentation

  • Overseas trade documentation, e.g. a Letter of Credit (LC)

  • Instruments affecting the transfer of land

  • Paperwork for the consent of a minor to travel overseas without their parents

Finally, a Notary Public can witness and certify the signatures on these important documents, and more. A document may require notarization to be legally binding, but having a notary witness any signing gives it more power than it would have had without this safeguard.