What Is A Notary Public? A Complete Overview

6 Min Read
Published Nov. 16, 2023
Written By
Dan Rafter
Man working at a desk.

If you are signing important legal documents such as a will, trust, power of attorney or child-custody agreement, you might need a notary public to witness your signature and sign the document, too.

According to the National Notary Association, a notary public is a state-appointed official who serves as an impartial witness when people are signing these documents. A notary public will watch as you and other parties sign these key documents, and will then sign them, too.

Notary publics also play a key role in the mortgage closing process. Notary signing agents are a type of notary public who have been trained to witness and sign key documents when you close on a mortgage. Your title insurance provider will send one of these agents to the closing table when you sign the many documents involved in taking on a mortgage loan.

These agents also witness document signings for online mortgage closings that take place remotely.

How do you find a notary public or signing agent when you are buying a home and closing on a mortgage? And what steps will these agents take during the loan process?

Here is the information you need to know:

What Does A Notary Do? 

A notary serves as a witness to ensure that important documents are signed by the right people. They also verify the identities of the parties involved and make sure everyone understands what is being signed.

The American Society of Notaries lists the typical responsibilities of a notary as:

  • Verifying the identities of the signers of a document: Notaries will ask for a form of identification – usually a driver’s license or passport – to prove that the signers of a document or documents are who they say they are.

  • Acknowledgement: Some documents require that signers make a formal declaration stating that they understand what they are signing and that they are not being coerced to sign the document. Documents such as power of attorney and contracts often require acknowledgment. The notary public will ask signers if they understand the documents they are signing and that they are willingly signing it.

  • Oath or affirmation: Other documents require that signers swear an oath or affirm to a notary that the contents of the document are true. Affidavits for which the signers have provided facts often require this step. A notary must listen to the signers’ oaths or affirmations and then witness them signing the document.

  • Witnessing a signature: Most commonly, notaries witness people signing documents without first having to acknowledge or affirm the contents of these papers. Common documents that often must be signed in front of a notary include loan documents, court documents and commercial leases.

What Is A Notary Signing Agent?

Not all notary publics can witness and sign all documents. And that’s the biggest difference between a notary public and a notary signing agent.

Notary signing agents take more classes and must earn an advanced certification. This training allows them to sign and witness the signings of more complex legal documents, such as mortgage loan and refinancing papers.

Notary signing agents are essential to the home buying process. They’ll attend your mortgage closing, witnessing as you sign the many documents that come with the process of financing and buying a home.

Because signing agents have access to the private financial information of borrowers applying for mortgage financing, the mortgage lending industry requires that they submit to background checks each year.

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When Do You Need A Notary?

When will you need to use the services of either a notary public or signing agent?

Real Estate Transactions

If you are buying a home and taking out a mortgage, you’ll work with a notary signing agent. This agent is usually present at your mortgage’s closing and will serve as a witness when you sign your loan’s closing documents.

Legal Transactions

If you are creating a will or a trust, you’ll need a notary public to certify the documents and verify your identity. Maybe you want to transfer property to a family member or friend. A notary public will need to witness you signing the legal documents. This official will also verify your identity.

Business Arrangements

Are you creating a new business with a partner? You might need a notary public to sign contracts and incorporation papers. Not all contracts, though, need to be notarized.

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How Much Does A Notary Cost?

How much you pay for a notary will depend largely on where you live and what service you are requesting.

The National Notary Association says that notaries can charge $10 for acknowledgements and affirmations or verbal oaths, while in California, notaries can charge $15 for both services.

In Delaware, notaries can charge $5 for these services, while in Maryland it is $6.

How To Get Something Notarized

Have a legal document that you need to sign? Ready to sign a mortgage loan, loan application or note at the closing table? Here’s how the process works:

  • Ensure the document is complete: Make sure the documents that you are signing have no blank spaces, incorrect dates or sections with incomplete information. Once you’re certain the documents are in good shape, you can find a notary.

  • Find out what type of notary you need: If you are signing a will or trust, you can work with a notary public. But if you are signing mortgage documents, make sure to find a notary signing agent who is trained to work with mortgage loan paperwork.

  • Find a notary: You can find notaries in your local community, with many banks, libraries, post offices, government entities and UPS stores offering them. You can also visit the website of the American Association of Notaries and use its Notary Locator service to find a notary near you.

  • Bring proper identification: Don’t forget to bring proper identification when having documents notarized. Usually, your driver’s license will be enough. You might also be able to use your passport, state-issued identification card or U.S. Military ID.

The Bottom Line

Notaries are a key part of the real estate closing process, making sure that all documents are signed correctly and by the right parties. This helps ensure that the title of the property is free from future claims from governments or individuals. Notaries also help legitimize signatures and documents for many other purposes, such as verifying someone’s will or living trust.

When buying a home, you won’t need a notary signing agent until you reach the closing table. If you are ready to that eventually leads to closing day, you can start by working with Rocket Mortgage® today.

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