What is a Notarized Document and How Do I Get Something Notarized?

notary-public-signingA document that has been notarized is one that’s been marked with a stamp (or “seal”), which indicates that the signature on the document is legitimate. A notary watches you sign a document, and then places the stamp near your signature. This tells the bank that you really signed the document – it wasn’t somebody else posing as you. In the age of identity theft and lawsuits, it’s important for the bank to know whether or not you really signed that important document.

In addition to verifying your identity, a notary is supposed to look for signs of trouble: are you signing the document willingly (even if you don’t like what’s in it) or is somebody forcing you to sign? A notary will refuse to validate a signature if signs of coercion are present. Likewise, a notary wants to make sure that you’re in a condition where you can truly understand what you’re signing. If you are intoxicated, medicated, or unable to understand what’s happening for any reason, a notary should refuse to notarize the document.

How to Get a Notarized Document
How do you get something notarized? Simply sign it in front of a notary public (that’s a person who is authorized to notarize documents). 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 generally do the trick, although requirements vary from state to state. If the notary is not confident that you are the person in question, he or she can refuse to notarize your document – nobody is required to notarize anything.
Be sure to bring an unsigned document to the notary (that is, don’t sign it ahead of time). The notary needs to watch you sign in most cases.

Depending where you go to get your document notarized, you may have to pay a modest fee. Notaries have to spend money to operate as a notary, they have to study and 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 pay less than $20, and it might be as low as $5.

Where to Get a Document Notarized
You can get forms notarized in a variety of places. A good place to start is your bank or credit union. If you’re an account holder, the service might even be free. Even if you don’t have an account with a financial institution, a notary there may be willing to notarize something for you – just not for free. Otherwise, you may be surprised how many notaries are out there. Law offices, car dealers, check cashing stores, tax preparers, and even neighborhood convenience stores may employ somebody who is a notary. If you can’t find anybody easily, search online for a “notary public.”

What Does it NOT Mean to Have a Document Notarized?
Having a document notarized means that your signature is official. It does not mean much else. You can 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). Notaries are not required to read through the document and evaluate it for you, nor will they alert you to any problems; all they do is verify that so-and-so signed a document on such-and-such date.