When legally-binding forms or agreements must be signed, a notary public is often called upon to witness the signatures. Notaries are state-licensed officials whose duties include identifying the individuals involved, determining whether they're mentally competent, and ensuring that they're not signing under duress. The certification process for becoming a notary public varies between states, but usually follows a similar procedure.
Contact your state's commissioning authority for notaries public, usually the secretary of state's office or governor's office. Request a copy of your state's current eligibility requirements and the necessary application forms.
Complete a state-recognized or state-administered training program, if required. Most take six hours or less, and can be delivered online or in a classroom setting. The training revolves around a notary's duties, legal limitations and code of ethics.
Apply for state licensing. You'll be required to disclose any criminal convictions, declare that you're over 18 years of age, and adhere to your state's code of ethical conduct.
Take and pass the state's notary examination, if applicable. The examination is designed to assess your understanding of the notary's role, legal limitations and ethical obligations.
Maintain a journal, which constitutes a complete record of every transaction you conduct in your role as a notary. This is mandatory in some states, and recommended in most.
Most states have a residency requirement, though a few will permit out-of-state notaries if you live in one state and work in another, or regularly conduct business in a different state.
Notaries public must renew their licenses on a predetermined schedule. The licensing period varies between states, but ranges from two to 10 years. A four-year term is the most common.
Fees for notarization range from fifty cents to $10, depending on the state. Notaries are typically professionals in a field that has frequent need for legally-witnessed signatures, such as accounting, real estate or the law. They can verify copies or witness signatures for their colleagues and colleagues' clients, but not in cases they're handling personally; that would represent a conflict of interest.
Notaries are not permitted to give legal advice. Breaches can be punished with fines or jail sentences.