What does a Notary Business require?

March 7, 2024



Becoming a notary public is a responsibility that involves more than just witnessing signatures on documents. Notaries are trusted to verify the identity of signers, ensure the signers are aware of the contents of the documents, and determine that signers are willing participants in the signing process. Here, we explore the essential requirements for notaries to fulfill their roles effectively and uphold the integrity of the notarial act.

Official Notary Commission: The Foundation of Notarial Authority

The journey to becoming a notary public begins with obtaining an official notary commission, a crucial credential that grants legal authority to perform notarial acts. This commission is not merely a title; it’s a testament to the notary’s integrity, competence, and commitment to serving the public in a crucial capacity. Here’s what you need to know about securing your notary commission:

Understanding the Notary Commission

A notary commission is a state-issued document that authorizes individuals to act as public officials performing notarial acts. These acts include administering oaths, witnessing signatures on documents, and verifying the identity and willingness of signers. The commission signifies that the state trusts the notary to uphold the law and handle sensitive documents with integrity.

Application Process

The application process for a notary commission varies by state but typically involves several steps:

  • Eligibility Check: Confirm your eligibility, which usually requires being of legal age (18 in most states), a resident of the state issuing the commission, and not having any felony convictions.
  • Application Submission: Complete and submit an application to the state’s notary regulating body. This application may ask for personal information, background checks, and details about any previous notary commissions or legal infractions.
  • Education and Examination: Many states require applicants to complete a notary education course and pass an examination. These requirements ensure that notaries understand their duties, ethical obligations, and the legal framework within which they operate.
  • Filing a Bond: Some states require notaries to purchase and file a surety bond with the state. This bond protects the public from any financial loss due to a notary’s mistake or misconduct.
  • Receiving Your Commission: Upon successful completion of all requirements, the state will issue your notary commission. This document will include your name, commission number, and the dates of your commission term.

Commission Duration and Renewal

Notary commissions are not indefinite; they have a set term that varies by state, typically ranging from four to ten years. Near the end of your commission term, you must go through the renewal process, which may include refresher courses, a new application, and additional fees.

The Importance of Compliance

Holding a notary commission comes with the responsibility to adhere strictly to state laws and regulations concerning notarial acts. Notaries must keep abreast of changes in laws, maintain records as required, and conduct themselves with the utmost professionalism and integrity. Failure to comply can result in penalties, including the revocation of the notary commission.

Notary Seal and Stamp: The Mark of Authenticity and Integrity

The notary seal or stamp is a fundamental tool for notaries, serving as an official mark that validates and secures documents. This emblem of authority is not merely a formality but a critical component that lends credibility and legal weight to notarized documents. Understanding its importance, specifications, and proper usage is essential for every notary.

The Importance of the Notary Seal and Stamp

The notary seal or stamp is a legally recognized mark that signifies a document has been notarized. Its impression on a document denotes that the notary has verified the signer’s identity, witnessed the signing of the document, and confirmed the signer’s understanding and willingness to sign. In many cases, the presence of a notary seal is what makes a document legally binding and acceptable in various legal and governmental contexts.

Specifications and Requirements

The specifications for notary seals and stamps vary by state, but there are common elements found across the board. Typically, a notary seal or stamp includes:

  • The notary’s name exactly as it appears on their commission
  • The words “Notary Public”
  • The state in which the notary is commissioned
  • The notary’s commission number and expiration date
  • A seal or stamp that is photographically reproducible when affixed to a document

Some states require the seal or stamp to have specific colors or shapes, and others may require the use of an embosser that creates a raised impression. It’s crucial for notaries to familiarize themselves with the regulations in their state to ensure compliance.

Best Practices for Using the Notary Seal and Stamp

Security and Maintenance: Notaries should treat their seal or stamp with the utmost security, as it is their official signature of authority. It should be stored securely when not in use to prevent unauthorized use, which could lead to legal complications or fraud.

Clear Impressions: Every notarial act requires a clear and legible impression of the notary’s seal or stamp. Notaries should regularly check their tools for wear and tear and replace them if necessary to ensure every document notarized meets legal standards.

Proper Placement: The seal or stamp should be placed near the notary’s signature on the document but should not obscure any text or signatures. If a document has a designated space for the notary seal, it must be placed accordingly.

Record Keeping: Notaries are advised to record the use of their seal or stamp in their notary journal for each notarial act. This practice enhances the traceability of notarized documents and can be crucial in the event of a dispute or legal inquiry.

The Importance of Maintaining a Notary Journal

For notaries, the journal is not just a record-keeping tool; it’s a fundamental aspect of their practice that underscores professionalism, accountability, and protection—for both the notary and the public. While the specific requirements for journal entries can vary from state to state, the underlying purpose of the journal remains consistent: to provide a detailed account of notarial acts performed. Let’s delve into the key aspects of maintaining a notary journal.

Legal Requirement and Best Practice

In many jurisdictions, keeping a notary journal is a legal requirement, but even in states where it is not mandated by law, it is considered best practice. The journal serves as a chronological record of notarizations, detailing each act’s circumstances and the parties involved. This documentation can be crucial in the event of legal disputes, audits, or investigations, offering clear evidence of the notary’s adherence to proper procedures.

Details to Record

A comprehensive notary journal entry typically includes:

  • Date and Time of Notarization: The exact date and time the notarial act was performed.
  • Type of Notarial Act: Whether the act was an acknowledgment, jurat, oath, or another type of notarization.
  • Document Details: Information about the document being notarized, such as its type (e.g., deed, power of attorney, contract) and date.
  • Identification Method: How the signer’s identity was verified, whether through personal knowledge, ID documents, or credible witnesses.
  • Parties Involved: Names and signatures of the document signer(s), any credible witnesses, and the notary. Some jurisdictions also require recording the signer’s address or other identifying information.
  • Fees Charged: If any, the amount charged for the notarial act.

Security and Confidentiality

Notary journals must be kept secure to protect the privacy of the individuals involved and ensure the integrity of the recorded information. Notaries are responsible for safeguarding their journals from unauthorized access, loss, or damage. In many cases, the journal remains the property of the notary and must be retained for a specified period, even after the notary’s commission expires or is relinquished.

Electronic vs. Paper Journals

With the rise of technology, electronic notary journals are becoming more common and are legally acceptable in many states. Electronic journals offer advantages such as secure backup, ease of searchability, and enhanced security features to prevent tampering. However, whether using a paper or electronic journal, the fundamental principles of thorough and accurate record-keeping remain the same.

Identification Verification Tools for Notaries

A paramount duty of notaries is to verify the identity of the individuals whose signatures they are notarizing. This crucial step ensures that the parties involved in a document are indeed who they claim to be, thereby preventing fraud and unauthorized transactions. Effective identification verification relies on a combination of tools, knowledge, and best practices.

Government-Issued Identification

The primary method for verifying identity involves reviewing one or more forms of government-issued identification presented by the signers. Common forms include:

  • Driver’s Licenses: Widely accepted and used due to their prevalence and the rigorous identity verification processes conducted by issuing authorities.
  • Passports: Offer a high level of reliability, as they are issued by national governments and include several security features designed to prevent forgery.
  • State Identification Cards: Similar to driver’s licenses, these are issued by state governments to non-drivers for identification purposes.
  • Military Identification Cards: Issued by the Department of Defense for military personnel and their dependents, these IDs also contain several security features.

Notaries must ensure that the identification presented is current (or, in some cases, issued within a certain number of years past the expiration date, as per state laws) and contains a photograph, signature, and physical description of the bearer.

Understanding Security Features

Part of a notary’s expertise includes familiarity with the security features embedded in government-issued IDs. These features can include holograms, watermarks, microprinting, and other elements that are difficult to replicate. Being knowledgeable about these features allows notaries to detect counterfeit or altered identification.

Secondary Forms of Identification

In situations where primary identification documents are unavailable or additional verification is needed, notaries may ask for secondary forms of identification. These can include:

  • Birth certificates
  • Social Security cards
  • Credit cards While these are not always acceptable as the sole form of identification, when used in conjunction with a primary ID, they can provide further assurance of the signer’s identity.

Special Considerations and Best Practices

  • Credible Witnesses: Some jurisdictions allow the use of credible witnesses to vouch for the signer’s identity if the signer cannot provide acceptable identification. The notary may need to know the witness, or the witness must have proper identification.
  • Record Keeping: Notaries should document the type of identification used to verify each signer’s identity in their notary journal, including any ID numbers or other relevant details (without violating privacy laws).
  • Stay Informed: Notaries should stay informed about changes in identification documents and new security features by attending training sessions, workshops, and reading professional resources.

Understanding Errors and Omissions Insurance for Notaries

Errors and Omissions (E&O) Insurance is a critical component in the arsenal of tools a notary public uses to protect themselves while serving in their official capacity. This specialized form of liability insurance is designed to protect notaries from potential financial repercussions stemming from mistakes or omissions that occur during the notarization process. Given the legal importance of notarized documents, even small errors can lead to significant legal and financial consequences for the parties involved. Here’s why E&O insurance is essential for notaries:

The Nature of Notarial Work

Notaries are tasked with preventing fraud by verifying the identity of the individuals signing documents, witnessing the signing process, and ensuring that all parties are entering into agreements knowingly and willingly. Despite the utmost care and diligence, there’s always a risk of human error. Mistakes such as incorrect information, missing signatures, or improper document handling can lead to disputes or legal challenges.

Protection Against Financial Liability

E&O insurance offers a safety net, covering legal fees, settlements, and judgments that result from claims of negligence or inadequate performance of notarial duties. This protection is not just for cases where the notary is at fault; it also covers the costs of defending against unfounded allegations. Without E&O insurance, notaries could be personally liable for these costs, potentially jeopardizing their finances.

Peace of Mind

Knowing they have E&O insurance allows notaries to perform their duties with confidence. This peace of mind is invaluable, as it enables notaries to focus on their essential role without the added stress of potential financial ruin from an honest mistake. Additionally, having E&O insurance can enhance a notary’s professional reputation, signaling to clients and employers that they take their responsibilities and the protection of all parties involved seriously.

Choosing the Right Coverage

E&O insurance policies vary in terms of coverage limits, deductibles, and specific terms. Notaries should carefully assess their level of risk based on their work volume, the types of documents they notarize, and their state’s legal requirements to determine the appropriate coverage level. While some states may not mandate E&O insurance, having it is considered best practice in the notary profession.

Professional Conduct and Ethical Standards for Notaries

Professional conduct and ethical standards form the bedrock of the notarial profession, ensuring that notaries act as impartial witnesses, uphold the integrity of the signing process, and foster trust in the documents they notarize. Here are key principles and practices that embody these standards:

Upholding Impartiality

Notaries must remain neutral and impartial in every transaction. This means notarizing documents without favoritism or bias towards any party involved. Notaries should avoid situations where they have a personal interest, whether financial or emotional, in the outcome of the document being notarized. Impartiality ensures that all parties can trust the notary to act fairly and without prejudice.

Protecting Signer Privacy

Confidentiality is a cornerstone of ethical notarization. Notaries often handle sensitive documents and personal information. It is their duty to safeguard this information, only disclosing it when required by law. Respecting privacy builds confidence among clients that their personal affairs are treated with the utmost discretion and integrity.

Adhering to State Laws and Regulations

A notary’s actions are governed by the laws and regulations of their state. Familiarity with and adherence to these laws are non-negotiable aspects of professional conduct. This includes understanding the types of documents they are authorized to notarize, the acceptable forms of ID for verifying signer identity, and any limitations on the fees they can charge. Compliance with state laws not only ensures the legality of the notarial act but also protects the notary from legal repercussions.

Avoiding Unauthorized Practice of Law

Notaries are not attorneys (unless they have been separately qualified as such) and must not engage in the unauthorized practice of law. This includes giving legal advice, preparing legal documents (beyond filling out notarial certificates), or interpreting the contents of legal documents for signers. Crossing this boundary can lead to legal challenges and undermines the notary’s role as an impartial witness.

Performing Duties Competently

Ethical standards demand that notaries execute their duties competently. This includes properly identifying signers, understanding the notarial acts they are performing, and ensuring that documents are complete and signatures are genuine. Competence also means knowing when to refuse notarization if the notary suspects fraud, coercion, or if the signer appears not to understand the document.


The role of a notary is integral to the legal process, ensuring the reliability and integrity of signed documents. By understanding and adhering to the requirements detailed above, notaries can perform their duties confidently and competently, serving the public trust to the best of their ability.