Many legal documents, such as deeds, trusts, powers of attorney, and contracts, either require, or are made more legitimate, by having a notary public sign the document. This is referred to as “notarizing” the document.
In Maryland, a person who is a Notary Public must obtain a license, must be sworn in by an officer of the Circuit Court, and must follow certain rules in the exercise of the Notary Public’s powers. A Notary Public must ensure that she knows the person who is signing the document. This usually is accomplished by the Notary Public reviewing that person’s driver’s license or passport.
Then, after witnessing the individual sign the document, the Notary Public will complete what is known as a Notary Jurat, which is a section of the legal document in which the Notary Public enters certain information, including the expiration date of the Notary Public’s license, signs the document, and affixes his or her seal to the document, which seal often takes the form of a special ink stamp on the document page.
In addition to those actions, the rules governing the actions of a Notary Public require that the Notary Public maintain a “fair register” of all of the acts undertaken by the Notary Public. This is one step that often is overlooked. There are lawyers who also are licensed Notary Publics who will witness a client’s signature to a document but might overlook recording the action in a Notary Public fair register. Indeed, I have encountered some lawyer-Notary Publics who were unaware of the requirement to maintain a contemporaneous fair register.
The fair register is an important record because, if a client ever requested it, the Notary Public has an obligation to provide such client with a certified copy of the record of the act that was notarized. For example, some years after a legal document is signed, if there is a question as to the legitimacy of the signature, a party to the legal document may seek out the Notary Public to request a certified copy of the fair register entry memorializing the execution of such legal document. If the notary public did not make an entry in a fair register and did not maintain that fair register as required under the law and regulations governing Notary Publics, then it would be impossible to obtain such a certified copy at some future time.
Knowing these rules, a client who signs a document requiring notarization could make an appropriate inquiry with the Notary Public if the Notary Public did not ask the client to sign Notary Public’s fair register.
William M. Gatesman is both a lawyer and a licensed Notary Public, and is available to assist clients in both capacities.