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Commissioned Notaries Public for California



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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

This information is provided as a courtesy and should not be construed as legal advice.

  1. What is a Notary Public?
  2. What is a Certified Loan Signing Agent?
  3. Why do documents require notarization?
  4. What types of documents are notarized?
  5. Can I meet the notary electronically?
  6. What type of Identification will I need to show the Notary?
  7. Who can be a Credible Witness?
  8. What if my name on the document doesn't exactly match my Identification?
  9. What if I can't sign my name?
  10. Do I always need a thumbprint?
  11. Can a Notary refuse to notarize my document?
  12. What's an Apostille, and how do I get one?
  13. Why would I need a Notary accredited by the Philippine Consulate?
  14. Can a Notary Public "sign" (or represent an employer) on the Form I-9?

1. What is a Notary Public?

A Notary Public is a public official appointed by the California Secretary of State to be an impartial witness in the signing of important documents and to administer oaths and affirmations.

Each Notary Public must pass both an examination given by the State and a background check. Beginning in 2005, notaries were also required to complete six hours of training before receiving their commission, and renewing notaries must complete three hours of training. 

Unless a licensed attorney, a Notary Public may not give legal advice, draft legal documents nor accept fees for legal advice. A Notary may not even advise a client as to the type of notarization a document requires. The correct notarial wording must be provided by the creator of the document to be notarized.

2. What is a Certified Loan Signing Agent?

A Certified Loan Signing Agent is a Notary Public with experience in conducting real estate or mortgage loan signings.

A Certified Signing Agent has passed an examination administered by an industry-recognized entity such as the National Notary Association. However, there are no federal, state, or local statutes that designate what "certification" requires or means. Notaries go through the certification process voluntarily to demonstrate their knowledge and professionalism.

3. Why do documents require notarization?

Notarization creates a public record, and helps prevent fraud.

Before notarizing a document, the Notary Public will verify the identity of the signer(s) of a document, who  a) personally appeared before the Notary on the date and in the County indicated, and  b) acknowledged signing (or executing) the document.

Notaries may also certify that a signer, whose identity has been verified by satisfactory evidence, has voluntarily signed and sworn an oath or affirmation that the signed document is complete and truthful.

The Notary must establish that each signer is aware of and understands what he or she is signing and is doing so willingly.  An interpreter can never be used to communicate between the signer and the Notary Public.

4. What types of documents are notarized?

Many types of documents can be notarized. Notaries in California commonly perform three types of notarial acts: Acknowledgments, Jurats, Oaths or Affirmations, and Copy Certifications.

The purpose of an Acknowledgement is the positive identification of the document signer to ensure that the document has, in fact, been signed by that particular person.

Jurat is used to verify the identity of the signer(s) and to compel truthfulness by the document signer. The Notary will ask the signer(s) to swear under oath or affirmation that a statement made in the document is true.

Copy Certifications confirm that a particular document is a true copy of the original. For example, in California a Notary Public cannot notarize a passport, but would be able to notarize the passport holder's statement.

However, a Notary may not advise a client what type of notarization a document requires. The correct notarial wording must be provided by the creator of the document to be notarized.

5. Can I meet the Notary electronically?

California Notaries Public may NOT perform notarial services online via webcam or other notarization websites.  Document signers must appear in front of the notary

The California Secretary of State's website acknowledges that, under current law, California notaries are authorized to perform electronic notarizations "as long as all the requirements for a traditional paper-based notarial act are met, including the use of a seal for all but two specific documents used in real estate transactions." However, functionally (or in reality), this means NO ... or not yet.  


Stay tuned!

6. What type of Identification will I need to show the Notary?

The most common form of Identification (ID) is a photo ID that is current or issued within the last five years, such as a Driver's License, Passport, or ID issued by the United States government, a state, California Correctional Facility, or tribal government that contains an identifying number, the individual's  photograph,  signature and a written physical description, including height, weight, and color of both hair and eyes.


Please note that as of the 1st of January 2017, Matricula Consular cards will be accepted as a valid form of California ID.

Without such a photo ID, satisfactory Evidence of Identity requires either the oath or affirmation of a Credible Witness, who personally knows both the Signer and the Notary Public; or the oath or affirmation of two Credible Witnesses, who personally know only the Signer.


7. Who can be a Credible Witness?

If a signer doesn't have a current ID, a Credible Witness is someone who can provide the proper Identification, and is willing to swear or affirm that:

  • The individual appearing before the Notary Public as the signer of the document is the person named in the document; and
  • The Credible Witness personally knows the Signer; and
  • The Credible Witness reasonably believes that the circumstances of the Signer are such that it would be very difficult or impossible for the Signer to obtain another form of identification; and
  • The Signer does not possess any of the identification documents authorized by law to establish the Signer’s identity; and
  • The Credible Witness does not have a financial interest and is not named in the document(s) to be signed.

Only one Credible Witness is necessary when the Witness personally knows both the Signer and the Notary.  Two Credible Witnesses are required if neither personally know the Notary Public certifying the document.

8. What if my Name on the document doesn't exactly match my Identification?

The notary can only record the name exactly as written on the Identification card. 

A rule of thumb is "less, but never more." For example, if the Identification reads "John Q. Buck" the document, signature and notarial journal may read: John Q. Buck, John Buck, J. Buck, or J.Q. Buck. However, it may not read: John Quincy Buck.


If acceptable to the document recipient, the signer may sign the document using an AKA (also known as) by signing first the name on his/her ID, then "AKA" followed by the name currently in use.  For example, if Mary K. Smith just got married, and changed her name to Mary S. Jones, but doesn't yet have her new ID, she might sign her document as "Mary K. Smith aka Mary S. Jones".

9. What if I can't sign my name?

If someone is unable to sign his or her name, the signer may use an "X" or other mark as a valid signature when two witnesses watch him or her make the mark. If the signer has a valid ID, the witnesses are not required to show ID or sign the notarial Journal; however, if the signer does not have a valid ID, the two witnesses must meet the requirements for a Credible Witness (provide proper ID, have no personal benefit, and sign the Notary's Journal).

10. Do I always need a thumbprint?

Some documents require a thumbprint as part of the entry in the Notary's Journal, such as Deeds of Trust, Quitclaim Deeds, Powers of Attorney, or any document affecting real property.

Many notaries offer the option of supplying a thumbprint as an additional proof that the signer actually appeared before the notary; it also helps deter identity theft.

11. Can a Notary refuse to notarize my document?

A Notary Public may not notarize any document that he or she knows to be incomplete or is without a doubt false.

In all notarizations, the document signer must be acting of his or her own free will and must be able to communicate that he or she understands what is being signed. An interpreter can never be used to communicate between the signer and the Notary Public.

12. What's an Apostille, and how do I get one?

An Apostille is an Authentication Certificate issued by the Secretary of State verifying the signature or stamp of an official (such as a Notary Public) on a document for use in another country.  This authentication only certifies the authenticity of the official, the capacity in which that official acted, and when appropriate, the identity of the seal or stamp which the document bears.  


Once a document has been notarized, requests for an Apostille or Authentication Certificate can be submitted to the Secretary of State either in person or by mail.


Authentication Requests in PERSON

Requests for Apostille/Authentication Certificates may be presented in person to either the SACRAMENTO or LOS ANGELES offices during normal office hours (8am - 4:30pm, Monday - Fridays excluding state holidays).  No appointment is necessary and customers are served in "first come" order.  In addition to a $6 handling fee for each signature to be authenticated, a $20 authentication fee is required.  Acceptable payment methods are check, money order, Visa or Mastercard;  cash is only accepted at the Sacramento office. 


Authentication Requests BY MAIL

To submit a request by mail, you must include the following items:

  1. The original notarized and/or certified document(s);  photocopies are NOT acceptable.
  2. A cover letter stating the country in which the document is to be used.
  3. A check or money order for the authentication fee of $20 per Authentication Certificate made payable to the "Secretary of State" and payable in US dollars ($).
  4. A self-addressed envelope for return mail.  To use a tracking service, provide a pre-paid air bill.  If not prepaid, the documents will be mailed by US Postal Service at no charge.


For a detailed list of the public officials and the Authentication / Apostille process in California, please go to this link:  

CA Sec'y of State Apostille Directions

13. Why would I need a Notary accredited by the Philippine Consulate?

Documents executed, signed or issued within the jurisdiction of the Philippine Consulate General in Los Angeles that are intended to be used or presented in the Philippines must bear consular notarization or authentication (also known as a "red-ribbon") for the documents to be accorded legal effect in the Philippines.  

The Philippine Consulate website describes some of the types of documents  which might be notarized by an accredited Notary.  Some of the sample forms offered can be found here (click here)

Those unable to personally appear and sign or execute the document before the Consular Officer in Los Angeles may personally appear before a Notary Public accredited by the Philippine Consul General.  (Source:  philippineconsulatela.org)

For more information, please refer to the Notarials (Legal Requirements and Procedures) page here (click here).

14. Can a Notary Public "sign" (or represent an employer) on Form I-9?


Employers must now verify the identity and immigration status of every employee through Employment Eligibility Verification (Form I-9) prior to start of work.  When employees are off-site or at a distance, employers may contract with an objective person to verify the new employee's identity and status.


However, as of August 2015, the California Secretary of State specified that a notary public, who is not also an immigration consultant, may NOT complete Form I-9 even when acting in a non-notarial capacity.


Therefore California Notaries Public are not allowed to act on behalf of a company to verify the employment eligibility of an employee - unless that notary is also an immigration consultant.

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