A notary public is a state-appointed official that ensures documents and sensitive papers are signed without duress and that the individual signing is the correct signee. The purpose of a notary is to reduce the potential for fraud and certify the signature on the document.
Becoming A Notary
In most states, anyone without a criminal past can become a notary public without difficulty. The process can vary from one state to the next, so you will need to check your area for the exact process, but in most cases, there is an application that must be reviewed and approved by the Secretary of State, and some fees you need to pay.
Many states have a short test you will need to take to ensure you understand the job and what you will do in that role. Most states do not require a notary to be a lawyer or have any formal background, but they will do a criminal record check at the time of the application.
The notary is to be an impartial witness, and you must be a law-abiding citizen, so some things that disqualify you, such as past felony charges and criminal convictions. Check with the state for the specific disqualifiers in your area before you apply.
The Notary's Role
If commissioned as a notary public, you may be called on to notarize documents for public and private situations. In many states, the sale of a car and transfer of ownership requires notarization, and documents like divorce papers, marriage licenses, and legal proceedings must be notarized before filing.
The notary public is not certifying the paperwork and often does not need to understand it. The notary's job is to check and verify the identity of the person signing the papers. The easiest way is with a passport or driver's license with a picture of the person and their signature.
The notary public will look at the picture and compare the signatures, then sign and stamp the document to indicate they believe the signee to be who they say they are. Most states allow the notary to charge a fee for their services, but many times it is just a few dollars, and some will do it for free to help people in the area that need their services.
Many businesses have a notary public in the building, and you can often look online to find them. You may also find people living in your neighborhood with a commission or a coworker that is a notary. If you need a notary public and can't find one, call the Secretary of State's office, and they can put you in touch with someone in your local area.