Common Questions About Notaries and Witnesses

Common Questions About Notaries and Witnesses

To execute a legal document means to bring the terms of the agreement into effect by signing it. It is the final step to making a document legally binding.

The way you execute a legal document can determine whether or not it is legally valid. Some documents require a Notary or Notary Public to be present and officiate the process while the parties sign. Other contracts require witnesses to verify that the legal form was executed correctly and signed by all parties.

For those who are unfamiliar with witnesses and notaries, we’ve broken down some of your most common questions to help you execute your document with confidence.

Notaries

What is a Notary Public and what do they do?

A Notary Public is a state-appointed official who has been authorized to notarize documents. This means they must be present to verify the identity of the parties involved in a contract by checking identification and also to ensure that the signatories understand the document and its contents.

A Notary Public essentially oversees the parties signing the document, authenticates it, verbally confirms that each party understands the agreement, and provides a seal or stamp of approval on the document itself to show that it has been notarized.

Notary Publics also perform a variety of other tasks besides authorizing documents, such as administering oaths and affirmations (to verify that a document is true), witnessing signatures, certifying copies of documents, and more.

A Notary can refuse their services if they suspect fraud or they are unsure of a signer’s identity. They can also refuse to notarize a document if there is reason to believe that one party has been coerced, or if either party does not understand the agreement.

What is the purpose of a Notary Public?

When a legal document has been notarized, a Notary has attested to its validity and proper execution.  Some financial institutions require legal documents to be notarized, such as a Power of Attorney. Using one helps to deter fraud because the notary checks the identity of the people involved and makes sure each of them sign the agreement willingly and not under coercion or duress.

Additionally, a Notary helps carry out the process legally. Some legal documents are not valid until notarized.

Another benefit of using a Notary is that the signers do not have to testify in court to verify their signatures because the document has been notarized and is legitimate.

Where do I find a Notary? How much do they cost?

There are many places to search for and locate a Notary. Here are some places to ask:

  • Banks
  • Registry offices
  • Town or city hall
  • Courthouse
  • Printing/Shipping stores
  • Online Notary directories
  • Military bases
  • College or University campuses

The cost of a Notary really depends on the document, the Notary, and the state where you are executing the document. Each state sets a maximum fee for what Notaries can charge. The cost can be anywhere from $2-$20. Some banks provide this service for free to their customers.

What documents need a Notary?

Many documents require notarization, and some are highly encouraged. Here are the most common documents that get notarized:

  • Last Will and Testament
  • Power of Attorney
  • Property Deeds
  • Prenuptial Agreement
  • Contracts
  • Affidavits

Typically, a Notary is required for any documents that contain terms that the signer is agreeing to.

What should I look for in a Notary?

Notaries are appointed by state government. They are expected to be impartial and professional, as well as exercise good judgment. As representatives of the state, they must be responsible and not let any self-interest interfere with their duties.

Ask friends and family members for notary recommendations. They should be able to provide you with a reference. If not, your lawyer can also point you in the right direction.

Witnesses

What is a Witness?

A witness is a neutral third party who is present to watch signers execute a legal document. Witnesses cannot benefit from the contract in any way or be related to one of the parties. For instance, a beneficiary cannot witness a Will where they are inheriting assets.

Witnesses must be 18 years old and of sound mind when witnessing a document’s execution. They do not have to understand or know what is in the document in order to be a valid witness.

What does a Witness do?

A witness is brought in during the signing of a document to physically observe the parties sign it. Witnesses should also confirm the identity of both parties. They then sign the document as a witness to prove they saw each party sign.

What is the purpose of a Witness?

Witnesses ensure that the document was signed by both parties and no forgery took place. Having someone there to attest to this can be valuable if there is ever a dispute regarding the parties or the contract.

When do you need a Witness?

Not every document requires a witness, however, there are specific legal forms, such as a Will, that have particular signing requirements regarding the number of witnesses you must have while signing. Whether you need one present will depend on the document and your jurisdiction.

What documents need a Witness?

Documents that often require a witness include:

  • Last Will and Testament
  • Mortgage Agreement
  • Divorce Decree
  • Property Deeds

Can a Notary be a Witness?

Most jurisdictions allow a Notary to serve as a witness. But if they are witnessing a document, they cannot verify their own signature as a Notary because it would be a conflict of interest.

Executing Documents using Notaries and Witnesses

Signing a legal document brings its terms into effect, whether it’s a loan, purchase, or separation of assets. To prevent fraud and perjury, Notaries and witnesses observe the signing of a document and confirm each signer’s identity.

Whenever you are executing a document, ensure you are signing it according to your state law’s requirements and those of your document. Many banks and other institutions have their own signing policies, so if they require notarization, be sure to contact a Notary for their services, or enlist witnesses to be present while signing.

Have you ever used a witness or Notary Public? Have you ever acted as a witness?

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Kristy DeSmit

Marketing Specialist at LawDepot
Kristy is an avid blogger, Twitter enthusiast, and company legalese interpreter.
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6 thoughts on “Common Questions About Notaries and Witnesses

  1. Tammie

    Is a mortgage/deed of trust valid if the notary signed as a witness and then notarized her own witness signature, and was also the agent for the title company?

  2. LawDepot Team

    Hi Tammie,

    Laws regarding notarization vary between states. According to Superior Notary Services, notaries are prohibited from notarizing their own witness signature. For more information about your specific situation, it’s recommended you contact a local attorney.

  3. Joan Karter

    The POA I’ve created using Law Depot came with a page for my Affiant to acknowledge the POA with the Affiant’s signature notarized in the state where the principle lives (Florida.) The Affiant doesn’t live in the same state. Is this really required or can I ignore it? There is no real property involved in this case. Thank you! Joan

  4. LawDepot Team

    Hi Joan,
    Ideally, signatures and notarization should take place in the same state since some states have different laws regarding out of state notarization. To find out if this is a requirement in your state, please consult a local attorney. Thank you.

  5. LawDepot Team

    Hi Jo, please refer to the Witness section above in the blog post. A witness must be an adult of sound mind and not benefit from the legal contract. Their job is to watch the parties sign the document and verify their identity. For an answer to your specific question, please contact a local attorney. Thank you.

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