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Certifying Copies

Do all states allow their notaries public to perform copy certifications?

No. The notary laws in some states specifically prohibit notaries public from certifying copies of any documents.

If as a notary public I am permitted to attest to or certify copies in my state, for which types of documents can I perform copy attestation or certifications?

Although the notary laws in some states prohibit notaries public from attesting to or certifying copies of any documents, some states will allow notaries to attest to or certify non-recordable documents. Notaries should always consult their state’s laws to be clear on whether or not they can attest to or certify copies of documents. For this purpose, the definition of a non-recordable document is a document which is not considered part of public records or one which will never be filed or recorded with any official or government office.

Examples of non-recordable documents include: 1) in some cases, pages from the notary record book depending upon the notary’s commissioning state; 2) business correspondences; 3) insurance policies; 4) reports of non-governmental bodies; 5) a high school or college diploma; 6) personal letters; 7) consent forms; 8) lease agreements; 9) contracts; 10) copies of a settlement statement in a real estate transaction, 11) bills and other types of documents which do not appear in the official records of any government office or in the publicly recorded records of a governing body.

If you are uncertain about whether or not you have the authority in your state to attest or certify a copy of a non-recordable document, or if you are uncertain about whether or not a document is considered non-recordable, be sure to contact your state’s commissioning authority for further information.

For which documents are notaries public prohibited from issuing copy certifications?

In general, notaries public may not certify or attest to copies of any publicly recordable documents. Notaries public may not certify or attest that any public record is valid or authentic. This is regardless of whether the publicly recordable document was filed or issued in the U.S. or abroad. These documents may only be certified by the official governmental office or agency that originally issued them. This rule applies whether the recordable document has actually been recorded or not. Issuing certified copies of recordable documents can incur severe state or federal penalties.

Examples of recordable documents may include: (1) driver’s licenses, (2) passports, (3) powers of attorney, including durable powers of attorney, (4) state identification cards, (5) social security cards, (6) birth certificates (7) death certificates, (8) marriage certificates, (9) verification of legal status, (10) visas, (11) certificates of appointment, and (12) permanent residency cards.

Furthermore, if a client provides a notary with a scanned copy or photocopy of either a recordable or a non-recordable document, the notary may not certify or attest to it.

How do I certify a copy of a passport, visa, or driver’s license?

A notary public is generally not allowed to certify copies of recordable documents such as passports, visas, and driver’s licenses. However, in Florida, according to the Governor’s Reference Manual for Notaries, a copy of a passport or driver’s license may be attested to. All notaries from all states should independently refer to their home state’s notary manual to get more clarification on attesting to or certifying a copy of a document.

However, as a notary you can notarize the customer’s statement that the document is what he or she says it is. You will need to ask the customer to provide you with a written statement of the facts and to sign it in your presence. The document must include a notarial certificate for you to fill out and notarize. If no notary certificate is attached then the presenting customer should shown statutory certificates to pick from and the notary will then attach and complete the chosen certificate.

Can I certify or attest to a copy of a photograph (such as an electronic copy of a passport photo identification)?

No, a notary public may not certify a copy of a photograph, because this appears to imply that the notary public is authenticating the identity of the person whose photograph is being submitted. You cannot simply place your notary seal on a photograph to lend it an “official” appeal. However, if the customer brings you a written statement about that photograph, and signs it in your presence, you can then notarize the customer’s signed statement.

You cannot tell the customer what to write in his or her statement, as this could be construed as offering legal advice. Instead, say something like, “I cannot tell you what to write about your photograph, but if you present a written statement to me about the photograph, I can notarize your signature on that statement.” There will likely be the need to attach a proper notary certificate because the client will probably not know that they need to include a certificate for the notary to complete. To be prepared for this situation, you will need to have examples of notary certificates available to show your client. You can purchase notary certificates from the American Association of Notaries for a very reasonable fee, or you can type your own certificates according to the approved statutory notary certificates of your state’s commissioner of notaries.

If my state allows for copy certification or attestation by a notary public, what procedures should I follow?

Notaries should always consult their state’s laws for clarity about how to attest or certify copies of documents. The procedures for copy certification of a non-recordable document are as follows:

1) The notary examines the document in its original format, which cannot be a copy.
2) The notary makes a photocopy of the original document.
3) The notary carefully examines each page of the copy for comparison to its original in order to attest to it being copied completely.
4) The notary public prints or types the copy certification certificate either on the front or on the back of the photocopy.

Note: If the notary does not have access to a copier, the notary must refuse to perform the copy certification because the notary must make the photocopy of the original document.

What does it mean to "self attest" a document?

In many states, a certifying officer gives assurance of the genuineness and correctness of a copy. Thus, an “attested” copy of a document is one that has been examined and compared with the original and given a certificate of its correctness signed by the persons who have examined it. This person may not necessarily be a notary public. For instance, registrars’ offices of academic institutions may have authority to attest to or certify copies of transcripts, or a title officer in a title company may have the authority to do likewise with a non-recordable document involved in a transaction.

Legal disclaimer: The information provided on this page is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. We do not claim to be attorneys and we do not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, or reliability of the information provided. You should always seek the advice of a licensed attorney for any legal matters. It is your responsibility to know the appropriate notary laws governing your state. In no event shall the American Association of Notaries, its employees, or contractors be liable to you for any claims, penalties, losses, damages, or expenses, howsoever arising, including, and without limitation, direct or indirect loss, or consequential loss, out of or in connection with the use of the information contained on any of the American Association of Notaries website pages. Notaries are advised to seek the advice of their state’s notary authorities or attorneys if they have legal questions.