You’ve probably had a document notarized at some point in your life. But do you know the exact purpose of notarization?
In a nutshell, the duty of a notary public is to "prevent and deter fraud" by making sure that the person signing a document is who they say they are, that they understand what they’re doing and that they are signing of their own free will.
That’s one of the things taught in a recent notary class arranged by Tracy Brown, clerk of the Catoosa County Superior Court, and held at the courthouse in Ringgold.
The 90-minute class was taught by Mike Smith, (take a deep breath) the director of communications and compliance for the Georgia Superior Court Clerks’ Cooperative Authority. Smith outlined for attendees the duties and best practices of a notary public and discussed situations a notary might face.
Most of the class members were already notaries or had been in the past and were brushing up on their knowledge. Some had stories of their own to share, in addition to Smith’s tales of caution.
There was the time, for instance, that a notary declined to affix her seal to a document because she felt an elderly relative was being coerced into signing. Another time, a notary working in a professional office was being pressured to put her seal to a document supposedly already signed by the wife of her boss. Not only is it illegal for a notary to sign a document if he or she has not affirmed the identity and willingness of a signer and witnessed them signing, but this notary knew that her boss and his wife were in the midst of a messy divorce.
Most notaries will never face such situations, but there is a lot they need to know to fulfill their office faithfully. While no training is required to become a notary in Georgia, there are plenty of resources to help.
A free online course will prepare anyone wishing to hold the office of notary public. There’s also a 100-page handbook that outlines rules and offers other help. Smith’s office maintains a helpline notaries can call from early in the morning until late in the evening if they run into a sticky situation.
There is little financial incentive to become a notary. By law, a notary in Georgia can charge no more than $2 to notarize a document (sometimes other charges can be added, such as travel costs, but they must be billed separately). The cost to become a notary ranges from $37 to $42, plus the cost of a seal.
So why would someone want to become a notary?
For some it’s because they work places where notaries are needed – law offices, banks, car dealerships, real estate offices. Sometimes bosses are happy to pay the fee for an employee to become a notary.
For others, like class attendee Penny Mahon, who is executive director of Catoosa County Habitat for Humanity and a former notary, it’s a way of making life a little easier for her group’s workers. "Our volunteers have to fill out certain forms that have to be notarized," she says. "I want to save them the trouble of having to go somewhere else and take one more step when they’re giving of their time to help others."
Notaries are commissioned by the clerk of the Superior Court in their county. An applicant must be at least 18 years old, be a legal citizen of both the United States and the county in which they’re applying (some exceptions apply) and must have an operating phone number. They also must be able to read and write English and must provide affidavits from two people attesting to the applicant’s good character.
After the class taught by Smith, Brown presented each attendee with a personalized certificate to commemorate their participation.
If you are interested in becoming a notary public or just in learning about the subject, you can find out more at gsccca.org/notary-and-apostilles.