A notary public is a certified official that is capable of acting as a reliable, impartial witness for the signing of important documents. A notary services individual is also able to administer oaths and may have other official capacities depending on the jurisdiction.
In the United States, most notary publics charge a nominal fee for their services. Notary publics dispense their official duties by marking documents with their signatures and a distinctive embossed stamp or inked seal. A document which has been witnessed by a notary public has been notarized.
The benefits of using a notary public services are simple. By certifying the veracity of the signing parties, the notary provides an inexpensive way for organizations and individuals to enter into contracts and conduct business with a reasonable assurance that the notarized documents will be recognized in court.
Using a notary public is a way to protect against fraud, as the notary is responsible for requiring the signer of a legal document to establish his or her identity. Although this is not conclusive proof of identity, it provides reasonable evidence of identity so that every day business can be conducted. A notary also acts as a disinterested third party for parties entering into a legally binding agreement.
The concept of a notary is as old as the Western concept of civil law, which has its beginnings in the courts of Rome. As the Roman legal system became more codified, the law courts became more and more reliant on the use of scribes for maintaining the court records. These scribes developed a system of legal shorthand, called notae. In time, a legal scribe earned the name notarius.
The name has been handed down through the centuries, living on past the fall of the Roman Empire. During the Middle Ages, the role of the notary public was often taken by the clergy, who were charged with recording private and public transactions, as well as drawing up official documents.
Today, a notary public's duties are somewhat different from the duties of a notarius. In the United States, a notary public has been authorized by a specific body, usually a state government, to perform the services of a notary. These duties are usually confined to the witnessing of documents and the administration of oaths. Some states also allow notary publics to certify copies of official documents
Two of the most common documents that a notary public will witness have to do with the sale or transfer of real property and the granting of power of attorney.