Why Documents Are Notarized
Some understanding of why documents are notarized and what notarization means is important, both to notaries public and to the public that we serve.
Documents are generally notarized for one or more of the following reasons:
- It is required by law in order for the document to be considered valid and binding on the parties.
- It is a government form and the government agency that issued it requires that it be notarized or they will not accept it.
- It is a court document and the court has a rule of procedure that requires the document to be notarized or it will be rejected by the court.
- The party that is receiving the document has demanded that it be notarized or they will not accept it.
- The document is one that is usually notarized due to customs and traditions, so those who will receive it may not accept unless it is notarized.
- The person who prepared the document and/or the one signing it believes that it adds a level of trust and legal weight to the document to have it notarized so that whoever the document is being sent to will be more likely to accept it.
Notarizing a document does not “make it legal.” It was already a legal document because of its content before it was signed. No one would bother to have a document notarized unless the document was going to have a legal impact. Notarizing a document MAY make it legally-enforceable upon the signers, depending on the document and the laws in the state or states involved.
Of course, documents are only binding upon those who sign them, unless a judge gets involved. So, for example, no one is required to accept a power of attorney even though it was properly executed and notarized. Notarization generally adds some element to a document that makes it more likely that it will be accepted, but it does not “make it legal” and does not force parties who did not sign it to accept it.
For the signers, there is only one reason to have a document notarized — they have a purpose in mind that will be made possible or that will be made more likely by having the document notarized.
Because of this focus, those who request notary services rarely care about the rules that are placed upon notaries by law and otherwise. These rules may require us to say no to their request or to ask them questions that they would rather not answer.
The signers rarely care about anything except achieving the purpose that led them to us. In every case, it is our duty to uphold the rules and to do what we swore we would do when we took our oath of office, even if that means we have to tell them no.
It is always a pleasure when we can tell them yes, as it means that we are able to help them get past this hurdle on the path to their goals. Even when we disagree with those goals or question the wisdom of how they are pursuing them, it is our duty to keep our personal opinions and beliefs out of the matter and focus on helping them. If their request does not violate any of the official rules, we have to remember our oath to serve the public and keep our personal beliefs or opinions to ourselves. If their request is legal, ethical, and reasonable, they have a right to expect us to help them.
This article is part of the first draft of American Notary Basics: What Every Notary Needs to Know™, which should be published soon.