Steps to Proper Notarization

Advanced Study of Notary Certified Copies – Part II:

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Notaries do not issue apostilles or authenticate notary certificates, so many of them do not concern themselves with understanding apostilles or certificates of authentication. Notaries should re-think this position.

It is important for all notaries to learn the authentication and apostille process of their respective states. It is critical to treat every notary copy certification act as if it will require an apostille certificate or a certificate of authentication and be judged by state and federal government authorities during the authentication process.

Serious Notary Error Halts Apostille Process The topic of notary certified copies became a lengthy three-part series for the American Association of Notaries (AAN) emailed newsletter because we learned of a notary error that came under scrutiny by the notary public administrator of the notary’s state as well as the state’s authentications unit. The state’s authenticating office rejected a “notarized” birth certificate bound for Venezuela and would not issue an apostille because of a notary error.

The state’s authenticating office said that when the “notarized” birth certificate and the request for an apostille was received, it was obvious that it was an official certified copy of a birth certificate and that it had been certified by the appropriate government office, the office of vital statistics. However, the citizen may not have realized that the certified copy of the birth certificate could be authenticated by the state and she took it to a notary and told him she needed a notarized copy of it so that she could obtain an apostille.

The notary should have known that the right response would have been to tell the client that she could send in the certified birth certificate for an apostille without a notary seal. However, the notary apparently was inexperienced with notary copy certifications and did not understand the process of obtaining an apostille. Unfortunately, the notary placed a sticker on the already certified copy of the birth certificate that said, “True Copy,” signed it underneath the words, and added his inked seal. There was no venue and no certificate wording.

The state authentications unit refused to authenticate the document and attach an apostille because of the notary’s error. The document was returned to the citizen with instructions to obtain a new certified copy from the state office. The notary received a letter of correction.

Overview of Apostille Certificates and Certificates of Authenticity The following simple overview is brief and undetailed. Please visit the links provided at the end of this section if you desire more information on the Hague Convention and the authentication process.

An apostille certificate or a certificate of authenticity is almost always necessary when an American notary’s certificate is attached to a document that will be used abroad. Apostilles or certificates of authenticity will not be issued for documents that will be used in the United States.

If a notary certificate must be relied upon for commerce, trade, credentialing, or critical identification tasks, a foreign recipient must be able to trust that the notary’s certificate is authentic. The purpose of an apostille or a certificate of authenticity is to prove that the notary’s seal and certificate is authentic and reliable.

It could be said that the authentications unit of the notary’s state authenticates the notary’s seal and signature by identifying the notary and adding the state’s official seal and certificate much like the process that a notary goes through during a notarization.

One item to note is that there is difference between an apostille certificate and a certificate of authenticity.

Apostille Certificate - If the country that the document will go to is a party to the Hague Convention, the notary’s state authentications unit will provide an apostille certificate. Authorized agents at the state office (or, in some states, a county office) will review the certificate, check to see that the notary is indeed an active notary in good standing, that the information on the notary’s seal is accurate, and that the signature on the certificate matches the notary’s signature on file.

Certificate of Authenticity - If the country is not a party to the Hague Convention, the document will be authenticated by the notary’s state authentications unit and another type of certificate will be issued. The certificate may be called a “Certificate of Authentication,” “Certificate of Authority,” or another similar name. The document will then go to the U.S. Department of State or Embassy Legalization for further authentication.

(Additional sources for information on apostilles and authentication: Hague Convention; Countries that accept apostilles; ABCs of Apostilles pamphlet.)

Notary Certificate Authentication - Eligibility Requirements The following requirements must be met before a notary certified copy or other notary act can be authenticated:

-The notary’s signature must match the name on the commission and it must also match the sample of the notary’s signature on file with the appropriate authentications unit. That is why notaries must not alter their signatures after they receive their commissions without advising the notary public administrator’s office.

-The commission date on the certificate and seal must match the one on file.

-The wording in the notary certificate must be substantially like statutory certificate wording.

-The notary seal must be clear and the writing must be legible.

-The certificate must be filled out appropriately.

-The date of the certificate must be within the dates of the notary’s term.

-The act that the notary performed must be an act that notaries in that state are authorized to perform.

-The document must be bound for use in a country other than the U.S.

When to Refuse to Make a Certified Copy

Aging expiration date. If you know that your client will be going through a long process of obtaining apostilles or authentications on several documents or if they will be going through a long period of approval for something as involved as an overseas adoption, do not do their notary work if your commission expires in fewer than 12 months.

If a notary’s commission expiration date stated on a document expires before the documents are completely processed by the foreign country and before all approvals are given, it can cause the process to have to completely start over. This can be heartbreaking and expensive in the case of an adoption. Adoptive parents may be required to obtain ten or more apostilles on several documents. Let them know that you are knowledgeable enough to think ahead on this, even if no one else has told them that an aging expiration date on a notary’s seal should be avoided.

For the wrong purpose. There are individuals who will attempt to obtain notary seals and certificates on documents for purposes that are not in the best interests of citizens or local, state, or federal governments. They hope that the certificate and seal will give the document a more official status. You are not required to notarize a document that is clearly for the purpose of opposing laws of your local, state or federal government or that are detrimental to other citizens. Refuse the notarization and make a note of the circumstances in your record book.

Properly Handling Common Documents Presented for Copy Certification

Know what you can or cannot do. The first step is to determine if your state allows you to copy certify documents or notarize an affidavit for copy certification by the document custodian. A list of states that allow copy certification was included in the last article. Notaries must determine whether or not they may perform this type of act or if they may use the Copy Certification by Custodian method that was discussed in detail in Part I .

As a quick review, the Copy Certification by Custodian method is when a citizen presents a document to a notary to copy certify it and the notary cannot legally perform that particular act. In that case, the notary could explain to the citizen that he or she can make a written statement about the document and that the statement could then be sworn to and notarized. Refer back to Part I for a Copy Certification by Custodian form and for more details on this method of copy certification.

Do not make a notary error. As mentioned earlier, the purpose of this series of articles is to impress upon readers that notary certified copies have become keys to the futures of others. The copies are used for credentialing and identifying individuals who are applying for important life-changing situations. The result can be devastating to the client if the process is delayed because a notary performs incorrectly or without proper authorization; it may even cause the notary to receive a reprimand or penalties.

The procedure to follow when making a notary certified copy:
(1) Review the document to make sure that it is an original. Notaries cannot make certified copies of copies.
(2) Confirm that it is not a public record.
(3) Make a copy of the document. Do not make a colored copy even if the document is in color; use a standard black and white copier.
(4) Use the correct notary certificate for making a certified copy. If you can, use a stamp on the copy that has your statutory notary certificate wording for this type of act. If you cannot use a stamp you must attach a loose notary certificate. Be sure to add to the bottom of a loose certificate identifying information similar to, “Attached to (Name of Document). Number of pages including this one ____. Document Date, if any:__________. Signatories, if any: __________________.”
(5) Complete the notarization.
(6) Some states’ notaries must keep a copy of all copy certified documents for their records, e.g., Texan notaries must. If your state requires it, make a copy of the complete document and the certificate and file it in your official notary files.
(7) Have the document custodian sign the notary record book after you record what the certificate was attached to, the number of pages, the date of the original, and the names of signatories if any.

You must make sure that the document is a not a public record. Notaries in states that allow notary copy certification may make copies of most personal documents if the notary is presented with the original document and if the original document is not a public record.

Public records are documents such as criminal case documentation from the police or sheriff’s department, a court record, marriage certificate, birth certificate, civil court document, business/corporate filing, death certificate, or patent filing; please note that this list is by no means complete. Public records must be copied and certified by an authorized clerk of the official government custodian that holds the original.

Forbidden documents are not eligible for custodian affidavit certification method. If your state strictly forbids certain types of documents to be copy certified by a notary, then it is unlikely that an apostille or certificate of authentication will be issued when a client makes a written affidavit that the copy presented is a true and correct copy of the original.

For instance, Texas notaries may not copy certify diplomas and transcripts. The authentications unit would not issue an apostille if a former student who needed a “notarized copy” of a diploma or transcript made an affidavit that stated it was a true and correct copy and a notary notarized it.

In order to authenticate a document, the Texas notary administrators and the authentications unit require that the registrar of the school that issued the transcript or diploma certify that the document is a true and correct copy. The registrar must sign a statement before a notary that the document is a true and correct copy. Only then will the Texas authentications unit issue an apostille or a certificate of authentication.

Ask a couple of questions when a document is presented for copy certification. The certified document copy may be for a purpose that will not require an apostille. If that is the case and the document is one that normally cannot be certified by the notary, the Copy Certification by Custodian method will probably work just fine as long as long as the document is not a copy of a public record.

For instance, even state and federal agencies will ask for “notarized copies” of passports or driver licenses. Occasionally, state agencies ask for this when their states’ own notaries cannot lawfully make “notarized copies.” Use the Copy Certification by Custodian method, instead, if the copy is for an official government purpose and you cannot make certified copies of that particular document.

If the document is going out of the country, will require an apostille, and you are not lawfully allowed to make a notary certified copy of it, you should explain to the requestor that there is no way for you to help him or her and he or she should contact the actual official custodian of the original document.

Also, remember the birth certificate issue from above. If a copy of a document requires an apostille or certificate of authenticity and if the copy presented to you is already certified as a true copy by a state official, you should explain that a notary’s certificate is probably not necessary in order to obtain an apostille. Check with the authentication unit in your state if you are not certain about the answer.

Diplomas and Transcripts. Florida specifically allows notaries to make attested copies of diplomas, but not transcripts. As mentioned above, Texas does not allow either to be notary copy certified. Other states fall in between or their laws are silent on the subject. Notaries from each state must determine whether or not they can lawfully copy certify diplomas and transcripts. When in doubt, refer the client to the school that issued the document.

Social Security Cards. Do not copy certify Social Security cards. Tell the requestor of this type of copy to visit the local Social Security Administration office and/or provide him or her this link. Citizens may request a new card at no charge.

U.S. Passports, Driver Licenses, and Government-issued ID cards. Florida allows notaries to attest to copies of driver licenses and passports. Although no mention of copy certifying passports or driver licenses exists in the Texas laws, the Texas notary public administrator has recently confirmed that Texas notaries may copy certify both of them. In the past, however, Texans were advised not to copy certify a passport or a driver license.

If passports and driver licenses are not specifically mentioned as documents that may be copy certified or attested to in your educational materials, the handbook from your state notary public administrator’s office, or in your state notary laws, you should contact your state’s notary public administrator’s office and ask questions. It is better to ask questions now before you are approached with a request to copy certify one of these types of documents.

Other types of cards to approach with care are military ID cards and state-issued concealed handgun license cards. Make sure that your state allows notaries to copy certify them before you do this.

Foreign passports and visas. In Florida, notaries may copy attest these documents. Other states should check with their notary public administrators before processing this type of notary certified copy and before using the Copy Certification by Custodian method.

IRS Returns that have been filed. Do not copy certify any tax return that has already been filed and do not suggest that Copy Certification by Custodian method can be used. If the return has been filed, the person must get the copies from the IRS.

Receipts, contracts, agreements, leases, insurance policies, financial records, or medical records. All of these are personal documents and may be copy certified by any notary allowed by law to do so. Where not authorized, most notaries can use the Copy Certification by Custodian method for these types of personal documents.

This concludes Part II of Advanced Study of Notary Certified Copies. As mentioned earlier, if you missed Part I, you can find it here .

If you have questions about Part I or Part II, please let us hear from you! Write us at .

In the conclusion of this series, Part III:

Business Building: Help Clients Locate Certified Copies of Public Records – You will probably need a cheat sheet. We will tell you how to navigate the system of recorded public documents and how to use this knowledge to your benefit.

Business Building: Use Your Copy Certification Expertise to Build Client Relationships – Be prepared. Know exactly what needs to be done and know how to point your clients in the direction of the agency that handles authentication and apostilles.

Reader Feedback (if any) – Again, we will be glad to share your input with readers. Email us at or post on our Facebook page. What questions do you have about notary copy certification or any notary topic? Do you have tips? Comments? We will find a place for your comments in one of our future newsletters.

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Notice of Disclaimer: The information provided herein is not intended to be an authoritative statement of law. Notary laws differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and may be interpreted or applied differently depending on your state’s statutes or situations. By providing this information, we are not acting as your attorney. We are providing this information based on long-established and recognized notarial standards and practices. If you have legal questions regarding acts or conduct as a notary public, please consult with an attorney or refer to your state’s statutes or other appropriate legal resources.

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