Legalese — Notaries

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Often when we have to sign an important document, we have to have it signed in front of a Notary Public, or a “Notary.” What does this mean?  Why do you have to do this?

A Notary Public (Not a “Notary Republic” or a “Nota Republic”) is someone who has taken an oath with the local and/or state governing authority, and in exchange is given the authority to administer oaths and attestations.  In English, that means that swearing to the truth of something in front of a Notary makes it official.  Also, signing something in front of a notary means that your signature itself is official.

When your signature is notarized on a document, it means that an officer of the court has witnessed you signing the document and verified that you are, in fact, you.  It is legal proof that you did sign what it looks like you signed and you were relatively competent to sign it when you did.  There was no forgery.  No one got you completely stoned or drunk and then tricked you.

Sometimes, for example, you might be called upon to sign an affidavit.  An affidavit is a sworn statement.  It means that when you sign your name to the contents of an affidavit, you are swearing that what you are saying in there is true.  If it turns out that you were lying, it is perjury, since signing it in front of the notary is the same as giving testimony under oath.  (“Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”)

A Notary can charge for his or her services, but not much.  Here in Georgia, the most they can charge is $2.00 for each “notarial act.” 

Another thing you should note is that a Notary has to sign off on the original, and only the original can be used as the sworn statement.   You can’t mail something to someone to have them notarize it, and you can’t make a copy of something notarized and expect the copy to work the same way.

In order to be a Notary in Georgia, you have to be at least 18 years old, a resident of the state, a resident of the county from which you are appointed, and able to read and write in English.  You also have to get two other residents of the county to swear that they are not related to you and that you are a “person of integrity, good moral character, and capable of performing notarial acts.”

It’s important to note that, at least from the Notary’s perspective, it doesn’t matter what is in the document that is being signed.  The Notary is not attesting to the facts in the document or anything in the content.  Only that the signature was duly and properly made.  Whether it is correct or not is entirely on the head of the person whose signature it is.

Bear in mind that, in Georgia at least, Notaries don’t have any powers beyond confirming that a signature is, in fact, the signature and giving someone an oath.  Sometimes, unethical notaries will practice law without a license and claim that they can help you with immigration or other matters.  This is not true, and it is against the law.

Notaries are fairly easy to find.  Often, you can find them at the customer service department of a grocery store.  Banks will often provide this service, as well as shipping stores.  Nearly all of us (including me) at my office are notaries, and people wander in from time to time asking us to sign something for them.  It is something we do happily, so long as they can prove that they are who they say they are. 

Please note that this column is NOT notarized, which means that I am not swearing to its contents, though I did write it. 

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