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Career Path: Notary Questions

Are you looking for a new career or considering changing careers? Are you interested in being a part of the legal system, but you don't want to be a lawyer? Do you enjoy working with people face-to-face?

Notaries public work directly with people, and hand-in-hand with the legal system. The word notary comes from the Latin word "nota," meaning mark.

What exactly do notaries do?

There are basically two different functions performed by notaries in most states.

One is to witness acknowledgements. These would include legal documents that the signer acknowledges they understand the contents of and that they are signing willingly. By meeting face-to-face with the signer, the notary ensures that the document is signed without duress by the person intended to sign. Examples of these documents include real estate deeds or wills. These transactions end with a verbal oath in which the notary asks if the signer understands the contents and signs willingly and the signer responds affirmatively. Then the notary signs and seals the notary certificate.

A second function of notaries is to witness jurats or documents declaring oaths or affirmations. The signer, in this case, has supplied a set of facts for an application or legal affidavit. This process also involves a verbal oath in which the notary asks the signer to swear or affirm that the information provided in the document is true.

Some states allow notaries to witness signatures or make certified copies.

Foremost in each case, the notary is a fraud deterrent, ensuring the identity of the signer, that the document is understood and that the signer is acting independently, without coercion.

Can a notary act as a judge or lawyer?

No. Notaries do not make judgements, give legal advice, or argue in court. They are not licensed to practice law. However, they may work for lawyers or in courts.

Where do notaries work?

Besides working within the legal system, notaries may work in banks, title companies, loan offices, or education institutions. They may even be self-employed or travel to clients who can't come to them. Being a notary offers an advantage in attaining jobs and beginning salary when applying for jobs in legal or financial institutions.

How do I become a notary?

Notaries are appointed by a state official, which may vary, but it is usually the state secretary. Each state also has its own process for training notaries and renewing certification.

Various states' training courses may take place in a classroom setting or online. If you choose to study online, make sure that the school is recognized for your state guidelines and that you will finish with proper certification.

You must also pass an exam demonstrating your knowledge and understanding of a notary's duties and the legalities involved.

Does notary certification expire?

Yes. Refer to your state's guidelines to see how long certification lasts. You may be required to take a renewal course and apply for re-certification before your initial certification expires. Notaries must keep up with changes in law that affect their duties directly or indirectly.

Will I be expected to maintain any professional memberships?

Notaries aren't usually required to maintain professional memberships, but there are perks to joining a notary association. Benefits can include increased credibility, networking opportunities, notary-related newsletters, support, and discounts on notary supplies. Since notaries don't usually work in an office full of people on the same career path, an association may be just the thing for you to maintain the expected level of professionalism the public relies on.

As you can see, being a notary public is a flexible career path of its own, or it enhances many other paths. Notaries enjoy the professionalism of working in a legal capacity, and though it requires some training, it is very duty-focused and is not the same broad and intense education required to be a lawyer. All of a notary's duties require meeting other people face-to-face.

If this sounds interesting to you, make sure you get more information specific to your state, as the requirements do vary.

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