You were told by a lawyer, government office, or business adviser that you need to get something notarized. So what do you do next?
According to a Center City notary, Judi Lawrence — who teaches and writes books on the industry — a lot of people who need notary services find themselves unsure with what to do or how to start.
The main thing to remember, Lawrence said, is that notaries exist to serve and legally protect you. Notaries are well-regulated and have fees that are set by the state government. Services are also available to you regardless of your immigration status.
Here’s a breakdown of what a notary is, what they can do for you, and even how to get a document notarized for free:
What is a notary?
A notary, or notary public, is a person who has been authorized by the government to be an impartial witness to official document signings, legal agreements, and to verify people’s identities, among other services. When official business is being done — such as a document is signed, an oath is taken, or a transaction is taking place — and either party wants to have a verifiable record of it, you’d use a notary.
Each state has its own notary public certifications, so notaries in Pennsylvania are only authorized to perform services within their state. There are more than 70,000 notaries in the state, according to Pennsylvania’s Department of State.
What does a notary do?
They serve as an official witness to legal acts. Their purpose is to prevent fraudulent transactions from taking place by verifying the identities of all parties involved, witnessing transactions as they take place, and officially confirming that legal business occurred. Property deeds, wills, and powers of attorney are some documents that commonly require a notary.
Take an acknowledgment (when a signature requires verbal consent from the signer).
Administer oaths and affirmations (when a legal promise must be spoken in the presence of a notary, usually when signing a document).
Take a verification on oath or affirmation (when an oath or affirmation needs confirmation that it was taken in the presence of a notary).
Witness or attest a signature (when a document needs to be signed in the presence of a notary).
Certify or attest a copy (when a copy of an official document needs to be certified as a legitimate copy of the original).
Note a protest of a negotiable instrument (when a financial transaction wasn’t paid or a legal promise was not kept and one of the parties wants a record of nonpayment or nonacceptance. Common examples include checks, money orders, or a bill for a service provided. You can go to a notary to “protest” the negotiable instrument, which will create an official record of a failed transaction, who is responsible, and the reasoning behind it).
Where to get a document notarized for free
Most U.S. banks offer free notary services to members. If you have a bank account, check with your bank to see if it offers free notary services. Many banks in Philly, like Bank of America, Chase, Citizens Bank, PNC, and more offer notary service for free to account holders.
How to find a notary near me
You can use the Pennsylvania Department of State’s notary search tool. Notaries operate their own businesses and often list their contact information, services, and location online so you can also search for one yourself.
How much does a notary cost?
Notary services have prices that are set by the Pennsylvania Department of State. A notary public is not allowed to charge more than the public fees set by the department.
Notary fees in Pennsylvania:
Taking acknowledgment: $5.
Taking acknowledgment (each additional name): $2.
Administering oath or affirmation (per individual taking oath or affirmation): $5.
Taking verification on oath or affirmation (no matter how many signatures): $5.
Witnessing or attesting a signature (per signature): $5.
Certifying or attesting a copy or deposition (per certified copy): $5.
Noting a protest of a negotiable instrument (per page): $3.
Do you need ID to get something notarized?
Yes. You need a valid form of government-issued ID that contains your photo and/or signature, like a valid passport, driver’s license, state ID, or PHL City ID. Notary publics are allowed to ask you for more information to verify your identity if they feel they need more proof.
Can I get a document notarized if I’m undocumented?
Yes. Notary publics do not consider someone’s immigration status when having a document notarized. What matters to a notary is if a person can prove identity with enough “satisfactory evidence.” This means as long as you have documents that can prove your identity and signature, you should be able to use a notary.
Common misconceptions about notary services
Getting something notarized does not make it a legal document. Notaries are official witnesses to legal acts. They can’t draft legal documents or give you legal advice. When you get something notarized, it does not make the document “more legal.” Notarization simply confirms that a legal act — like signing a document or taking an oath — occurred in front of an official witness and that all parties involved have been vetted and identified.
Only certain documents can be notarized. For a document to be notarized, it must contain language that commits a signer to an agreement and requires an original signature. The document will also need a notarial certificate in the document or in an attachment.
Notaries don’t have to provide their services to you. It’s very rare that a notary will refuse services, but they are allowed to — unless there is a law requiring them to do so.
How can I become a notary?
To become a notary, you must be at least 18 years old and be a U.S. citizen or permanent legal resident that lives or works in Pennsylvania. Notaries need to be able to read and write in English, take at least three hours of an approved course, and pass an exam. They also can’t have any prior criminal convictions or sanctions.
How to complain about a notary
You can report a bad experience with a notary to Pennsylvania Licensing System (PALS). Visit pals.pa.gov, click “File a Complaint,” and select notary under “Type of Complaint.” You will then be able to provide contact information and describe the complaint in detail.