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Among a California notary public’s various roles, one is to serve as an officer that authenticates the signing of important legal documents. A notary is simply an impartial witness to the taking of acknowledgements and/or affidavits, the signing of documents and administering oaths.

To become an officer of the state, a notary public must complete and pass a curriculum as well as a state standardized test. The would-be notary must also go through an FBI and California Department of Justice background check. The California Secretary of State publishes online the Notary Public Handbook which contains California laws relating to notaries public and is designed to assist an applicant in preparing for the notary public examination.

As an impartial witness to the execution of legal documents, all California notary publics are prohibited by law from giving or providing any information that can be construed as practicing law. A notary cannot provide legal advice; a notary is not an attorney (though some attorneys – like me – are notaries).

A notary public’s power and authority comes from the State of California and is appointed and commissioned by California’s Secretary of State. A California notary public must act in an impartial, unbiased and disinterested manner since the position is a privilege that results from being given a public office.

Some typical documents a notary public will notarize include real property deeds, living trusts, healthcare directives, Powers of Attorney for property management, property titles, grants and estate plans. For certain notarizations such as documents transferring title to real estate, notaries will also fingerprint the parties involved in the transaction.

As an estate planning attorney, I notarize the documents I have prepared for my clients since I am also a notary. In most cases, I won’t notarize a document for someone who is not my client or for a document I have not prepared.

For steps to obtain a notary public commission, here’s a brief checklist:

  • Complete Approved Education
  • Register for the Exam
  • Take the Exam
  • Submit Fingerprints via Live Scan
  • Await Commission Packet
  • Purchase Notary Public Materials
  • File Notary Public Oath & Bond

For more information about this, see the Secretary of State’s website at this link.

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