Q: What is the function of a Notary Public?
A: The Commonwealth of Virginia Notary Public Handbook defines a notary as a public officer “who acts as an official, unbiased witness to the identity and signature of the person who comes before the notary for a specific purpose. The person may be taking an oath, giving oral or written testimony, or signing or acknowledging his or her signature on a legal document. In each case, the notary attests that certain formalities [as required by law] are observed.”

Q: What are the Official Acts of a Virginia Notary Public?
A: The code of Virginia specifies five basic notarial acts:
1) Taking Acknowledgments
2) Administering Oaths
3) Certifying affidavits
4) Certifying depositions
5) Certifying “true copies” of documents*
* Virginia notaries are not authorized to certify copies of birth, death, or marriage certificates.  Only the Division of Vital Records/Statistics may perform such a certification.  If you need a certified copy of this type of document, you must request it from the state in which the individual was born.  As a fraud prevention measure, many states require that the request form be notarized – a Virginia notary can notarize your signature on this form. Virginia notaries are not authorized to perform marriage ceremonies.

Q. What kind of identification must the signer produce?
A: As per Virginia law, all signers must personally appear before the notary and present government issued photo identification. The name on the identification must match the name printed on the document. Acceptable identification documents are as follows:
– State issued driver’s license
– State issued identification card
– United States military card
– United States passport
– Certificate of United States citizenship
– Certificate of naturalization
– Alien registration card with photograph
– Unexpired foreign passport

A notary may refuse to notarize a signature if he or she is uncertain of an individual’s identity, or if the notary is uncomfortable with the validity of the identification documents.

Q: What different types of notarizations are there?
A: The two most common types of notarizations are “Acknowledgment” and “Jurat”. The type of notarization needed is usually indicated on the document with a pre-printed notarial certificate.  However, if a notarial certificate is not pre-printed, the document signer must choose which to use, as the notary is prohibited from doing so.

Acknowledgment – An Acknowledgment certificate indicates that the signer personally appeared before the notary, was identified by the notary, and acknowledged to the notary that he or she freely signed the document. The signer must familiarize himself with the document and complete all blank fields before meeting with the notary.  Wait to sign the document until you are in front of the notary.

Jurat – A Jurat certificate indicates that the signer personally appeared before the notary, was identified by the notary, and signed the document in front of the notary. Additionally, the notary must administer an oath asking the signer to swear or affirm that the content of the document is true to the best of their knowledge. If the document has already been signed, the notary must have the signer re-sign the document in the Notary’s presence.  Jurats are typically seen on Affidavits.  The signer must familiarize himself with the document and completeall blank fields before meeting with the notary.
A simple way to tell which notarization your document requires is to look for the word “acknowledge” for an Acknowledgment, and for a Jurat look for the words “subscribed and sworn” or mention of an oath.

Q: I’m signing with a Power of Attorney?
A: The document preparer may require the document to be signed with specific POA working – check with the document preparer before meeting with the notary.  If you are signing loan documents, the lender and title company must be made aware of the POA ahead of time and must approve its use prior to signing the loan documents.  The title company may require the original POA be returned with the loan documents so it can be recorded with the Deed of Trust.

Q: I must have the notary’s signature authenticated – how do I do that?
A: For certain types of documents, such as those that will be used in a foreign country, authentification may be a requirement.  It is the responsibility of the document custodian (not the notary) to obtain the authentification of the notary’s signature.  For documents notarized in Virginia which will be sent elsewhere within the United States and its jurisdictions, authentification can usually be accomplished by obtaining an authenticating certificate at the office of the clerk of the circuit court where the notary filed the oath of office.  The fee for this varies by county.
If a document will be sent to a foreign country, an apostille will likely be required to authenticate the notary’s signature in accordance with the Hague Convention.  An apostille may be obtained from the Secretary of the Commonwealth in Richmond, VA.

Q: I need to have a Will notarized – are there any restrictions on this?
A: A notary must proceed with extreme caution when asked to notarize a Will, as it is a highly sensitive document.  Many Virginia notaries do not offer Will notarization services, or only do so if the notarization is at the direction of an attorney and if the Will already has a pre-printed notarial certificate within the document.  Unless he or she is an attorney, the notary is prohibited from answering any questions about the legalities of a Will.

***** A Virginia notary may decline to notarize a Will or any other document. *****
Wills usually require two witnesses, which cannot be the notary.  The witnesses must be unaffected by the content of the document.  All witnesses must provide identification to the notary, as their signatures are typically notarized on a Self-Proving Affidavit along with that of the Testator of the Will. The document signer is responsible for securing witnesses.

Q: My elderly relative needs to have something notarized, is there anything I need to do to ensure the notarization goes smoothly?
A: Generally, notarizing for the elderly is no different than doing so for any other person.  However, the elderly signer is subject to the same identification standards as listed above, and must be lucid and cognizant of what he or she is signing.  Many times the elderly cease driving a car and allow their driver’s license to lapse, and it subsequently may be lost track of.  In this instance, it would be a good idea for that person to obtain a state-issued identification card for non-drivers.  A notary must decline to notarize if the identity of the signer cannot be established or if the signer does not seem to understand what he or she is signing.

Q: I need a notarized copy of my birth certificate – can you do that?
A: No. Notaries are prohibited from certifying copies of birth, death or marriage certificates, or any document in the custody of a court.  Some states require that a request for a birth, death, or marriage certificate be notarized.  A notary may notarize the signature on the request form, but may not notarize a copy of the actual certificate.  You can obtain official certified copies of these documents from the state or county where they were filed.

Q: How can I get a copy of the Virginia Notary Handbook?

Q: Where can I find a 2017 Recission Calendar?

DISCLAIMER: I am not licensed to practice law and therefore cannot offer any legal advice or interpret any document. If you have questions about a document you are asked to sign or its legalities, contact an attorney.

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