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, like a Quitclaim Deed, require a notary public to be present and officiate the process while you and the other parties sign. Other documents, like a Power of Attorney, 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 the authorization to notarize documents (i.e., formally witness and certify signatures). A notary must be present to verify the identities of the parties involved in a contract by checking identification and ensuring that the signers understand the document and its contents.
Notaries should be impartial, professional, and exercise good judgment. As representatives of the state, they must not let any self-interest interfere with their responsibilities.
Notary publics also perform a variety of other tasks such as administering oaths and affirmations and certifying copies of documents.
A notary can refuse services if they suspect fraud or 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 gets notarized, a notary attests to its validity and proper execution. A notary helps execute a document legally; some legal documents are not valid until notarized.
Some financial institutions require notarized legal documents 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 signs the agreement willingly.
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 notarize, 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. 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 services
- 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 witnesses 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.