A notary public is a public servant appointed by a state official. The general focus of his or her job is to witness the signing of documents and administrator oats. They serve to deter fraud, appearing as an impartial witness for legal documents such as affidavits, deeds or powers of attorney. The presence of a notary public assistants to screen for petitioners and make sure both parties are entering into an agreement knowingly and willingly.
Historically, notary publications date back many centuries to the Roman Empire. Originally, they where chosen by the Pope, who would delegate his powers of appointment to the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Certain legal documents require the presence of a notary when they are signed. Other times private companies or individuals may employ the services of a notary in order to strengthen the validity and protect participating parties from fraud.
Some states require that the notary public be present at the time of a document's signing to be acknowledged as valid, but it is more often the case that the individual must simply appear before the notary and give proof of identity to have a document notarized.
For proof of identification, a notary typically requires a document with photo, description and signature. Common examples would be a driver's license, passport or military ID.
Despite the fact that notary publics often deal with sensitive legal documents, they are not licensed to give legal representation, counsel or services in any way. Therefore they can have no part in the preparation of any documents to be notarized.
For those seeking to become a notary public, obtaining a license is a fairly simple task. Individuals require little special training or prior knowledge, and are only required to pass a test and undergo some form of background check, although, specific laws governing the appointment of notaries can vary from state to state. For example, some states require that a candidate receive his or her appointment directly from the legislature.
Others may require that a notary be a citizen of the United States before granting a license.
Because of the different laws governing notary publics, there have been many incidences where individuals claiming to be notaries have taken advantage of this ambiguity, scamming unsuspecting individuals. This is especially common in cases of immigrants seeking citizenship in the US Due to the perceived similarity between a notary public and Notario Publico, a high ranking Latin position that is permitted to draft documents, give legal advice and hold other powers not available to a US notary, individuals may allow a notary to perform tasks he or she is not legally qualified to undertake.
In summary, the basic role filled by a notary public is that of an impartial witness. Contrary to popular belief, notarization does not make a document any more "legal" than it was prior. It simply means that the signer has acknowledged to the notary that he or she has signed the documents, and the contents are true.