Steps to Proper Notarization
Advanced Study of Notary Certified Copies – Part III
This is the third and final article in this series. The American Association of Notaries (AAN) sincerely appreciates the feedback that readers have provided as a result of this topic. We hope that we have answered questions about making notary certified copies and impressed on readers the importance of that seemingly insignificant notary act.
A question that has appeared frequently in our email since readers received Part I of this series is “Where should clients go for the documents that I can’t copy certify for them?” The final segment on certified copies will cover multiple answers to that question, plus provide a glimpse of how you may develop an additional income stream through these requests. (Please note that for the sake of brevity, attest/attestation will be represented by certify/certification.)
Review of Important Points in Part I and Part II
-Many notaries cannot certify or attest to copies under their states’ laws, whereas others have restrictions. The second part in this series provided a list of states that can certify copies.
-Many documents that are copy certified by a notary will be shipped to a foreign country and will represent proof of important credentials or personal facts. Ask if a document is going to another country. If it is not, you can use the Copy Certification by Custodian method because it will not need authentication. However, if the document is destined for a foreign country, the Copy Certification by Custodian may be rejected when the document and your certificate is presented to your state’s authentications unit.
- Never certify a copy of a publicly recorded document or any other document whose original is held by an official source. In every state, citizens must be referred to the official sources of publicly recorded documents.
-If the documents that are to be copy certified are destined for another country for a lengthy process such as a foreign adoption, decline to provide services if your commission is less than one year away from expiration. Refer the client to another capable notary.
-Handle each copy certification and notarization as if your work will be inspected by the state authentications unit. Be certain that every certificate is eligible for authentication. Someone’s future may depend on it.
Certified copies of the following documents must come from an official source. General summaries of how to locate publicly recorded documents appear below. There are additional sources at the end of this article for those who would like to know exact details and/or become more knowledgeable about locating public records.
Assumed name certificates. Assumed names for businesses are registered at the county level or the state level, depending on whether or not the assumed name is for an individual or an entity. A certified copy of an assumed name certificate must come from the clerk of the county’s public records or a state’s office that archives business incorporation records.
Bankruptcy documents. Certified copies of bankruptcy documents can be retrieved from the bankruptcy court’s clerk. Refer the client to the court that is stated on the document.
Birth certificates. Direct the requestor to the state bureau of vital statistics in the state where he or she was born in order to obtain a certificate copy of his or her birth certificate. In many states, the local courthouse (or city hall) in the county or city location of the person’s birth will also be able to issue a certified copy. States vary on the local offices from which birth certificates can be retrieved, but all states have a bureau of vital statistics.
Certificates of citizenship or naturalization. The client should be directed for assistance to a local field office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Company documents. Originals of incorporation records, fictitious name records, limited partnership records, limited liability company records, assumed names, and trademarks are located in the records of the incorporating states’ offices. Truthfully, many states do not deal in “original” documents any longer and accept electronically submitted documents for filing. The “certified” copy may be available for download from the state site.
Deeds and other property conveyance instruments. Certified copies of these instruments are located at the county courthouse, where county clerks’ offices are typically the official custodian of these types of records. A client may present you with an original deed and ask you to copy certify it. If it has been publicly recorded, there will be a clerk’s file mark on the document. In many venues, deeds are publicly recorded in the county office and the original is mailed back to the property owner. Notaries should not make certified copies of deeds or property conveyance documents, even if they have not been recorded in the public records. It is likely that they will be recorded at a later date.
Divorce record / proof of dissolution of marriage. If a client needs proof of a divorce, he or she must contact the state’s bureau of vital statistics for an official certificate. He or she can also contact the clerk of the court in which the divorce was granted.
Documents filed in a court proceeding. There are several levels and types of courts in all states, such as divorce, probate, civil, small claims, district, bankruptcy, federal, municipal, traffic, and criminal courts. Therefore, the types of documents that notaries may not certify or attest to include divorce decrees, wills that have been recorded with the probate court clerk, civil law suit documents, judgments, traffic tickets, documents from a court’s criminal file, bankruptcy notices and subsequent bankruptcy documents.
Advise the client to contact the clerk of the court that is represented on the document.
Driver Licenses. Many states allow notaries to make certified copies of driver licenses. Some states prefer that notaries use the Copy Certification by Custodian method that was discussed in Part I. Notaries must check with their notary public administrators’ offices to confirm that they have permission to make certified copies of driver licenses.
Federal or state income tax forms. A client who needs a certified copy of a previously filed tax return or a tax form must contact the IRS.
Licenses and commissions. Licenses and commissions are issued by an agency of the government. The client should contact the issuing agency for more information on how to get an officially certified copy of the license or commission. Example: Notaries are commissioned by the state. A notary who needs a certified copy of his or her notary commission must contact the commissioning office. Neither the commission holder, nor another disinterested notary, may make an attested or certified copy of a notary commission.
Marriage licenses and death certificates. Certified copies of marriage licenses and death certificates are generally obtained from the same offices as birth certificates. The state in which the marriage or death took place will have a record of the event. The courthouse or city hall in the location may also archive records of that nature.
Passports. The Department of State (DOS) acknowledges that it takes nearly two months to receive official certified passport records from their office. The DOS does not restrict notaries from making a copy of a passport and certifying that copy. However, some states’ laws discourage or forbid it. Many states allow notaries to use the Copy Certification by Custodian method that was discussed in Part I to make certified copies of passports.
Social Security Cards. The Social Security Administration (SSA) can issue an actual card at a field office. Do not certify copies of SSA cards. Direct the client to the local SSA office.
Student records (transcripts, etc). Direct the client to the school’s registrar’s office for certified copies of school transcripts. Policies vary. Florida allows notaries to make attested copies of diplomas, but Texas notaries cannot make certified copies of diplomas.
Titles to vehicles. Advise the client that making copies of vehicle titles is the business of the state’s department of motor vehicles in the state in which the vehicle was registered or titled.
Customer Service tip: Being an authority on the apostille process.
Ten years ago, notaries had no interest in learning about apostilles or certificates of authentications. They had no need to; those were tasks of the state, not the notary. The same is still true, except that conducting business across national borders is growing rapidly. Society is highly mobile and business and educational endeavors reach all corners of the globe, which will require more notary certified copies as this trend continues. The copies will be destined for the notary’s state authentications unit and, ultimately, on to another country.
Provide great customer service and be the one who can tell international clients and business people exactly what steps they must take to receive a certificate of authentication or an apostille on their documents. Tell them how long it will take and how to check on its status.
Dig deeply into the subject of apostilles and certificates of authentication. Scour your state’s website to understand the process thoroughly. Call and ask questions. Know exactly what documents can be copy certified in your state. Learn what documents the authentications unit will not authenticate if the Certified by Document Custodian method is used.
When a notary is skillful at explaining the process, he or she may find that certain clients become loyal and call for services regularly. Small businesses involved in international commerce may be knocking and asking for assistance.
More than one notary has learned from experience that many clients are willing to pay for capable administrative assistance to handle the details of this process. At the least, a notary who directs clients to necessary online forms and clearly explains the process of acquiring apostilles and certificates of authentication will find that desirable clients with foreign business interests will be loyal and may refer additional desirable clients to him or her.
Customer Service tip: Be an expert on where one might acquire certified copies.
Your clients may be very disappointed if you cannot lawfully copy certify certain documents. They probably do not have the knowledge to locate the document in the official custodian’s office and there may be critical deadlines. One thought is to offer great customer service along these lines.
Tell your clients where they will find the certified copies they seek. Alternatively, offer your clients the benefit of your records retrieval assistance. This would mean that you would do the legwork to collect the necessary certified copies for them. Of course, you would charge appropriately for your time and expenses and they would pay the costs incurred for the copies in addition to your fee.
Often, clients are relieved to learn of this service. One records retriever reports that a mutual acquaintance gave his name to a woman who needed to submit documents for FHA approval on a property. The deadline was 5:00 p.m. that day. The woman called and asked him to collect the property related documents from the local courthouse before 3:00 p.m. and to bring them to her. The records retriever had already made his daily run to the courthouse that morning and this would be a special trip to a destination 25 miles away. However, he agreed to do the job if she paid his rush and delivery fee. She willingly paid it and she had the documents in less than three hours. While he picked up copies, she was able to continue putting her package together and was able to meet her deadline.
Another person who does similar types of assignments makes90-mile trips to the state’s bureau of vital statistics for copies of certified documents when time is too short to order them. For instance, the retriever can walk right up to the counter, place his order, and return the birth certificate to the client within a few hours. (In most states, this type of client is required to provide the retriever an affidavit of permission or else the retriever cannot order the birth certificate.).
When a person makes a request by mail or online, the wait is generally four to eight weeks before the document arrives; however, when a retriever goes directly to the desk, the birth certificate can be issued within an hour. If getting a certified copy of a birth certificate no later than tomorrow is all that’s standing in the way of a pre-paid trip to Italy, people may be willing to pay a records retriever to deliver that birth certificate in less than a day. Time is money to most business people and they are willing to pay fairly for retrieval of critical records at critical times.
Obviously, this is not notary work and we will not explore further what is involved in the records retrieval business. The AAN does not endorse the business of records retrieval and our knowledge is quite limited on the topic.
However, notaries may seek opportunities that will supplement their income from notary work. We thought that this was an interesting tip to pass along to readers and that it might ignite an entrepreneurial spark in some.
More reading on locating certified copies and public records:
Find Public Records Fast: The Complete State, County, And Courthouse Locator [Paperback] by Michael Sankey. - Although it has not been updated since 2000, it is a fairly inexpensive book that will direct new records retrievers to the offices that they must contact to locate most public documents. It is an affordable introduction to public records and will help notaries direct clients to the right places to acquire certified copies of documents. Only used copies seem to be available at this time.
BRB’s Guide to County Court Records – Learn where clerks do record searches for free, which states offer access to statewide court records, accurate fee schedules for searches, copies and certifications, if credit cards are accepted for searches and copies, and many other details that notaries may want to have if they intend to direct certified copy seeks to the official source or if they want to do the legwork or phone work themselves.
Quick Search, Inc. This company contracts with records retrievers who will visit local public record repositories in a timely manner. We are told that this company’s contractor pay is not a great deal per search, but multiple orders are often requested at the same time. In some areas, this type of work is reported to develop into a modest, respectable income stream to supplement mobile notary income. Please note that we do not know if this company is taking on new contractors at this time and we do not endorse this company.
Jelly Bean Services contracts with people to go to courthouses and collect information from records. They have training materials. Please note that we do not know if this company is taking on new contractors at this time and we do not endorse this company.
The AAN does not endorse any of the links above or that you offer records retrieval services. We have no further information on this type of service. However, a search engine may provide many additional resources.
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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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