What Exactly Does a Notary Public Do?

Notarizing: An exciting world awaits you.
Notarizing: An exciting world awaits you. / djedzura/iStock via Getty Images

If you’ve ever had to sign your name to a document of great significance—like a mortgage, loan, or will—you may have been required to seek out the services of a notary public.

"What the heck is a notary?" you may have wondered. “And where can I find one?” Let us break it down for you.

What is a Notary Public?

Notaries are actually known as notary publics (or notaries public), and their role is one of a public official. A notary acts as a human fraud deterrent by validating the identity of the individual signing a legal document. Notaries also confirm that the parties to a contract are signing it freely and without duress, and that they understand what it is they’re signing. The practice of employing a notary public to prepare and certify official documents originated in the Roman Empire.

What does a notary Public actually do?

The notary makes sure any life-changing document—a will, power of attorney, a prenuptial agreement—has a valid signature by confirming a person’s identity with a driver’s license or other government-issued ID and being a physical witness to the signing. They will also sign their own name and provide a stamp or seal affirming their impartial observation of the signing.

How much does a notary Public cost?

Fee schedules are set by states, but notary services typically cost $5 to $30 depending on how many signatures are being verified, if a verbal oath is being administered confirming a document's contents are accurate, and whether the notary has to travel.

Where can you find a notary Public?

Notaries are typically available at banks, law offices, real estate offices, and shipping outlets like The UPS Store. Some independent notaries may be willing to travel to your home or office and are usually found online by using search engines.

Does the post office have a notary?

No. Because the post office is a federal operation, it will not employ state workers like notaries.

How does someone become a notary?

While some employees become notaries because their office uses one, others strike out on their own as a way of earning extra income. The process to become a notary varies from state to state. Usually, you need to be at least 18 years old, be a legal resident without a criminal record, and pass an exam in order to obtain a license. Some states may require potential notaries to take an instructional course. Others may require a surety bond of $500 to $25,000 in order to cover damages caused by a notary error. Because notaries are public officials, they may serve a term of four to 10 years.