Deeds, mortgages, and other important papers often require the signature of a notary public. This can be inconvenient if the document is sent to you at home or while you are on vacation because you have to go out and find a notary. This raises the question: Is notarization really necessary? What does it accomplish, anyway? And what do you do if the document is sent to you while you are in another state or foreign country?
The certificate the notary signs is legally known as a "certificate of acknowledgment" or "jurat". The certificate of acknowledgment is the notary's verification that the signer
(a) personally appeared before the notary, and
(b) stated that he or she voluntarily signed the document for the purposes contained in the document.
A document may be signed outside the presence of the notary, as long as the signer personally appears before the notary when requesting the notarization, and states that he or she actually signed the document. It is not legal for a notary public to acknowledge a document for someone who does not personally appear before the notary.
The exact language of the certificate of acknowledgment is not important, so long as it expresses the idea that the signer personally appeared and acknowledged signing the document.
In some states, documents will not be accepted for recording unless they are notarized. In other states, they may be recorded, but will have limited legal effect without the acknowledgment.
For example, in some states a document affecting real property is not deemed to give public notice unless it has been properly acknowledged. Therefore, an unacknowledged document can be recorded, but is does little good to do so.
Consequently, most documents affecting real property should be properly acknowledged and recorded in order to gain the protections provided by law against other parties who may later challenge title or claim an interest in the property.
Acknowledging a document also makes it easer to admit it into evidence in court proceeding, and can assist in proving its validity.
Who Can Sign Acknowledgment?
In most states, acknowledgments may be given before a notary public, judge, clerk, or deputy clerk of the court, county recorder, or justice of the peace.
If you are in another state when you need to acknowledge a document, it should not be a problem. An acknowledgment that is valid in the state where given is also valid in each other state. Just have the document acknowledged by a notary public in the state where you happen to be at the time.
It can be slightly more complicated in a foreign country, because notary publics are sometimes regarded as high public officials in other countries and may be unavailable for a routine notarization or may be expensive. In such a case, a local judge, clerk, or deputy clerk of the court may sign the certificate of acknowledgment. You can also go to the local U.S. Embassy to obtain an acknowledgment from an officer of the U.S. Foreign Service, a consular agent, or other person authorized by the U.S. State Department to perform notarizations. Commissioned officers in American armed forces overseas can also notarize documents for members of the armed forces and their dependents.
Acknowledgments furnish very important protections, particularly for documents affecting interests in real estate, such as deeds, mortgages, deeds of trust, easements, and deed restrictions. As a general rule, all recorded documents should be notarized.