During a notary signing, a notary public acknowledges the signing of one or more legal documents, and in some cases is required to obtain a sworn (or affirmed) oath from the signer(s).

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As a one line description, it may sound simple to be a Notary Public, however the California Secretary of State’s Business Programs Division Notary Public & Special Filings Section produced this not-so-simple explanation titled Functions and Duties of a California Notary Public – it’s a 65 page description!

A commissioned notary public is issued a license by the state and required to be bonded to legally administer oaths, take acknowledgments and certify various documents. A notary must ensure that the person signing a document to be notarized is who (s)he says (s)he is.

One misconception about a notary license is that his or her official signature and/or embossing stamp automatically makes a document ‘true and legal’. Documents certified by notaries public are sealed with the notary’s seal and are recorded by the notary public in a register maintained by him/her.

While mailbox shops, copy services and check cashing businesses often provide Notary services to the public for a fee, most banks have discontinued offering services to the public, and now limit notary services to banking business only.

If you become hospitalized, you can ask your nurse to arrange for the services of a notary public – free of charge.

Authentication of a Notary Public’s signature is often required when foreign and other jurisdictions are involved, such as courts in Mexico . The public may access this record and verify the “official” signature of the notary at the county clerk’s office.

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The Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility is a comprehensive standard for Notary ethics, best practices and professional conduct. (more)

Notary Public is not the same as a Notario Publico and should not be confused with the English-language term. According to the National Notary Association, “a notary public is a public servant appointed by state government to witness the signing of important documents and administer oaths.” Notaries are not lawyers and may not give legal advice.

California Government Code Section 8219.5 reads; “The literal translation of the phrase “notary public” into Spanish, hereby defined as ‘notario publico’ or ‘notario,’ is prohibited. Such a literal translation often creates a false assumption that the notary public is an attorney and can charge fees in conjunction with professional legal services.”

A notary found in violation of Section 8219.5 will be subject to a $1,500 fine and revocation of the notary’s commission.

Each license holder shall have a seal of office, which shall be affixed to his instruments of publications and to his protestations. The term of office is usually four years commencing with the effective date specified in the notarial commission. The Office of the Secretary of State performs random background investigations on individuals submitting new or renewal notary public license applications. The applicant cannot act as a Notary Public until he receives his certificate of appointment from this office. An appointed license holder may begin notarizing documents after receipt of a certificate of appointment from the Secretary of State.

The license holders seal shall either be a seal press or a rubber stamp. These shall be the exclusive property of the notary. Their signature and seal is required to authenticate the signatures on many legal documents. They then verify the person’s identity, usually done with a driver’s license, presses the seal on the document and signs it.