Notaries verify the accuracy of signatures on important documents such as wills, trusts and promissory notes. The notary certifies that the parties signing the document have proved their identities, understand the document and were not coerced into signing. Once these requirements are satisfied, the notary stamps an official seal onto the document.
A notary must keep an official log book with records of each notarized signature. Every record must list the names of the parties signing the notarized document and the date and time of the signature. Once the notary has completed his recordkeeping, all parties signing the document must also sign the log book. The parties signing the document must present a valid driver's license or passport as identification prior to any signatures.
A prospective notary must be at least 18 years old and pass a multiple-choice examination with 70 percent or higher to become eligible for a license. If he waits longer than two years after passing the test to apply for a notary license, he must take and pass the examination again. Applicants must not have any prior felony convictions or fraud-related disciplinary actions from a previous term as a notary.
A notary public may not notarize any document involving her own financial or personal interest. Notaries are prohibited from giving legal advice or preparing legal documents unless they also have a valid license to practice law from the applicable bar association in their area.
Every notary must have an indemnity bond to protect his clients from financial harm caused by an improperly witnessed signature. The exact requirements may vary for each state, but $10,000 is generally the minimum acceptable bond amount.
Each notary appointment is valid for four years. Upon expiration of an appointment, the notary can apply for renewal. Renewals are usually granted unless the notary has been negligent or committed fraud while performing her duties.
A notary must keep his seal in a place where only he can access it. The seal cannot be controlled by an employer or client. If the seal is lost, the notary must notify her state's applicable notary authority. When a new seal is purchased because of a renewal of the notary's commission or a name change, the old seal must be destroyed or rendered unusable. The specifications for notarial seals vary by state, with most states requiring the notary's name and commission to be listed.