Signing your document is usually the final step to making it legally binding. This brings the terms of the agreement into effect, but not all methods of signing and executing documents are equally valid.
Some documents require a notary public (also known as a notary or public notary) to be present and officiate the process while you and the other parties sign. Other documents require witnesses to confirm that it was executed correctly and signed by all parties.
It can all get very confusing, we know. So here are some answers to common questions about witnesses and notaries to help you execute your document with confidence.
What are notary publics and what do they do?
A notary public is a state-appointed official who has been authorized to notarize documents. When required, a notary must be present to verify the identity of the parties involved in a contract by checking identification and ensuring that the signers understand the document and its contents. Notaries are appointed by state government.
Notaries are expected to be impartial, professional, and to exercise good judgment. As representatives of the state, they must be responsible and not let any self-interest interfere with their responsibilities.
A notary public:
- Oversees the parties signing the document
- Authenticates the document
- Verbally confirms that each party understands the agreement
- Provides a seal or stamp of approval on the document 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 in order to verify that a document is true, witnessing signatures, certifying copies of documents, and more.
A notary can refuse services if they suspect fraud or if 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 in order to deter fraud. With a Power of Attorney, for instance, 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, as the notary has confirmed that the document is legitimate.
How much does a notary cost and where can I find one?
The cost of a notary depends on the document you’re looking to have notarized, the notary you choose, and the state in which you are executing the document. Each state sets a maximum fee for what notaries can charge. However, some banks provide this service for free to their customers so that might be the first place to ask. If you’re looking to find a notary in your area, check any of the following resources:
- Registry offices
- Town or city hall
- Printing/shipping stores
- Online notary directories
- Military bases
- College or university campuses
Do I need a notary for my document?
Many documents require notarization. For others, it is highly recommended. Here are the most common documents that get notarized:
Typically, a notary is required for any documents that contain terms the signer is agreeing to.
What are witness and what do they do?
A witness is a neutral third party who is present to watch signers execute a legal document. For a witness to be valid, they cannot benefit from the contract in any way or be related to one of the parties. For instance, a beneficiary cannot witness a Last Will and Testament in which they are inheriting assets.
A witness must be at least 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.
A witness is brought in during the signing of a document to physically observe the parties sign it. Witnesses should be able to confirm the identity of both parties. They then sign the document as a witness to confirm that they saw each party sign.
What is the purpose of a witness?
A witness ensures 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. Whether or not you need one will depend on the document and your jurisdiction.
Do I need a witness for my document?
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. However, if a notary witnesses a document, they generally cannot notarize that document. That would be a conflict of interest.
Read more: Your Guide to Signing Legal Contracts
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 a witness to be present while signing.