Legal Word of the Day
Notary Public
Entry: Notary Public
Pronunciation: note - ur - ree - pub - lik
Definition: (also called a notary or public notary) – a public officer of the court who notarizes and authenticates legal documents
Notary publics are one of the oldest types of legal professionals in the world. In fact, notary publics date back to ancient Rome where they performed such acts as recording public proceedings, transcribing government papers, registering judgments and decrees, supplying judges with legal forms, and other various duties.

A notary public under common law jurisdictions, such as the United States (excluding Louisiana because it follows civil law), is an individual who notarizes and authenticates certain legal documents and other official acts. To notarize essentially means to bear witness under seal to the contents of a particular document. To authenticate means to ask the person who wants the notarization whether that person is who he or she says he or she is and that the contents of the document are true and accurate.

So, how does a notary public notarize a document? Well, it’s pretty straightforward. A notary public administers an oath to the person who wants the document notarized. Then, the notary public authenticates the document by asking the person if the contents of the document are true and accurate. When the person says "yes," the notary will usually place a stamp and official seal on the document then sign his or her name to it. That’s about it. The document will then be considered notarized.

A notary public is not required to read the document for its substantive contents. Rather, the notary public is simply required to make sure that the person asking for the notarization is the actual person he or she claims to be and says that this is the actual document. So, why notarize a document? For many reasons, but let’s go over a few.

First, many legal documents must be notarized in order to have legal effect in court, i.e. for the document to be admitted into evidence. If a document is not notarized, it cannot be admitted into court. Also, notarizing a document helps to reduce the likelihood of fraudulent documents because of the legal formality of getting documents notarized.

What types of documents need notarizations? Many documents require notarizations, including: affidavits (i.e. statements by individuals), witnesses’ authentications on certain documents (e.g. to use as evidence in a case), deeds, wills, powers of attorney, notes and bills of exchange, and other documents.

In should also be noted that in common law countries like the United States, a notary public is not authorized to practice law. Rather, notary publics are individuals who notarize and authenticate documents. With that said, many lawyers are also notary republics (but they don’t have to be). A person who wants to become a notary public generally has to take and pass a written test, but lawyers generally do not have to take a separate test because they’re licensed attorneys.