If you need to get a document notarized, a simple, free solution can usually be found at the nearest branch of your bank. The process is typically very simple. Present the document to a notary public and sign it in his or her presence. After that, she officially notarizes the document using an official stamp, writes in the date, and adds her own signature. The notary usually asks to see photo ID to verify that you are indeed the person whose signature she is notarizing on the document.
Having a document notarized is essentially a third-party verification of your identity as the person signing the document. Examples of legal documents that commonly require notarization are mortgage contracts, wills, trusts, power of attorney authorizations and medical records.
Banks and Other Places You Can Find a Notary Public
Nearly all U.S. banks – certainly all the major money center banks, such as JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corporation and Wells Fargo & Company – usually have a notary public on staff in most of their branches. If there is not, the branch manager, or even a teller or personal banker, can usually tell you about a local branch of the bank that has a notary on the premises.
Most banks provide free notary public services to their customers. If you aren’t a customer of the bank, the bank may charge you for the notary service, or decline to provide the service and suggest that you go to your own bank.
Other financial services firms, such as credit unions, thrifts, real estate firms or insurance company offices also commonly have notaries available. As with banks, such firms usually provide you with the notary public's service at no charge, provided that you are a client or customer of the firm. If you are not a client, then it may either charge a small fee or it may not be willing to notarize a document for you. If this is the case, it may suggest that you go to a similar firm where you are a client.
Public offices where you can find a notary public include the local clerk of court’s office and sometimes a public library.
Law offices commonly have a notary on staff. If you need a power of attorney form notarized, you can generally have it done for free at the office of the attorney who prepared the document for you.
Notarized documents are sometimes shipped overnight, so some UPS or FedEx stores have a notary public available. The local American Automobile Association (AAA) office is another place that may offer free notary services, if you are an AAA member. Travel agencies also may have notaries on staff. Pharmacies or doctor’s offices may offer notary services, since medical records are one type of document that may require notarization.
Even if you aren't able to obtain free notarization, the typical fee is minimal, usually no more than a few dollars. However, even if the notary public doesn't charge you anything, it’s nice to tip her a couple of dollars; she has, after all, provided you with a service.
The Importance of the Notary Witnessing Your Signature
When you get a document notarized, what you're actually having officially notarized is the fact that you, the appropriate legal party, are the person whose signature appears on the document. Therefore, the notary has to witness you signing the document. Do not sign it before seeing the notary. Notaries take a legal oath that they will not notarize any document unless they have indeed witnessed it being signed by the appropriate party.
If you have made the mistake of signing the document prior to seeking out a notary public to notarize it, the situation isn't irreparable. The notary will probably ask you to come back with an unsigned copy of the document. After witnessing you sign the copy, she will compare the signature to the one you made on the original. As long as the signatures appear to match, she will notarize the original document for you.
If you don’t actually have to have the original document itself notarized – that is, if a notarized copy will suffice, she can simply notarize the copy. The safest procedure is to ask the notary public to notarize both documents. That shouldn't usually present a problem, as long as you have proper identification and the signatures on both documents are obviously identical.