What is a Commissioner of Deeds?

A commissioner of deeds, like a notary public, is a public officer who can take acknowledgments and administer oaths. However, unlike notaries, commissioners of deeds can exercise their duties outside the state in which they are appointed, and their power is typically limited to authenticating documents intended to be used or recorded in the state of appointment.

During the 19th century, deeds to be recorded in a grantor's state could only be acknowledged before a judge of a court of record if the grantor was located outside his or her state. The difficulty of finding a judge of record prompted states to establish an office of the Commissioner of Deeds to help individuals take acknowledgments of documents intended to be recorded in their states. As states started accepting notarial acts performed in other states, the role of the commissioner of deed became less important.

Currently, 15 states have laws on the books allowing the appointment of commissioners of deeds. However, the majority of these states are not currently appointing them. Only Florida, New Hampshire, and New York are still accepting applications for appointment, and Hawaii recently enacted a law allowing the appointment of commissioners.

As stated above, laws tend to limit commissioners' power. In Florida, commissioners can only notarize documents related to timeshares. In New Hampshire, commissioners may notarize any document intended to be used or recorded in the state. New York has a different form of commissioner of deeds, which is a lesser form of notary public appointed by city councils. The requirements to become a commissioner typically include filing an application, taking an oath, and paying a fee. Some states require bonds similar to those required for notaries public.

Becoming a commissioner of deeds may be a good way to add value to your services as a notary public. Consult your state's notary authority to determine if you can become a commissioner of deeds in your state.

By Robert T. Koehler, a Contributing Writer with the American Association of Notaries, Inc.

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