Several new notaries have contacted me over the years to ask about the right way to produce"notarized copies" of documents.
Disclaimer: I am not an attorney. You may not rely upon this information for legal guidance.
The Term "Notarized Copy"
When a client asks you for a "notarized copy" of a passport, driver license, or other type of document, what the client means is that he or she needs an attested or notary certified copy of a document.
Does your state allow you to perform copy certification or attestation?
Check your state's notarial laws to find out!
Even if you cannot produce certified copies, please don't stop reading. This article will give you some ideas on how to handle these types of requests. (Also, my most recent list of states allowed to perform notary copy certifications is at the end of this article. But, again, you must ensure that you are allowed by checking your laws.)
Just Stamp the Copy. (Never!)
I estimate that half of the new notaries reading this have already made this mistake.
A client will ask a notary to please make a copy and stamp the copy with the notary seal.
You can't do it.
Clients will beg, cajole, and offer the moon, but you must only stamp notarial certificates--never place your signature and seal on a document unless they are going onto a notary certificate.
Certifying or Attesting Copies - Let's Get to it!
What is this notarial act about?
The notary makes a copy of a document and certifies or attests to it as a true copy of the original document. There is a special certificate for performing this act.
Notaries in states that allow this practice almost never allow a notary to make a certified or attested copy of a document that is traditionally recorded in public records.
Notably, in a few states, the notary may accept a copy of a document and compare the original to the copy, but I would not do it. It would be too easy to overlook a small change in the document.
Copy Certification by Document CustodianIn states where notaries are not authorized to certify or attest copies, the notary may suggest that the client (the document custodian) write a statement about the document.
The notary may then show the custodian a form of certificate of acknowledgment and a jurat and allow the client to pick the notarial certificate he or she desires for the notary to attach and complete. (If a client is confused and pauses too long in trying to pick out a certificate, I simply allow them to have both certificates completed for the price of one. There's no law against this in Texas. Check your state's laws.)
Clarifying the Meaning of "Public Records"Public records can be held by any level of government (i.e., city records, county clerks' offices, state agencies, as well as federal clerks and federal agencies) and the records are available to members of the public for review. Citizens may also request certified copies of the documents from the custodial agency. Some recorded documents may be accessed only by the one to whom the document relates.
Some may be accessed by any citizen who looks for them and copies may be purchased by anyone who pays the copy fee.
The following documents are recorded by public agencies: birth certificates, marriage licenses, death certificates, deeds, deeds of trust, mortgages, divorce papers, other types of mortgage, real property documents, civil law suit pleadings, small claims court suit pleadings, and various legal documents that are filed with a government agency.
A good rule of thumb: if a certified copy of a document can be retrieved and purchased from a government office, you should not notarize it.
Who Needs this Type of Act?People often request that notaries issue "notarized copies" of documents in the bulleted list below.
However, what they are asking for is an attested or certified copy issued by a notary.
Inside of parentheses in the list and stated in italics are reasons why people may be asking for the copies. Each of the above bulleted items have Type 1 - 4 noted, as well. Explanations for how to handle each type are also included below the list.
- Driver Licenses (Visas, passport services, applying for jobs) - TYPE 1
- Passports (Visas, applying for jobs in foreign countries) - TYPE 1
- Diplomas (New job candidates, going to a college in another country) - TYPE 1
- Social Security (For mortgage, job, and government benefits applicants.) - TYPE 1
- College Transcripts (New job candidates, going to a college in another country) - TYPE 2
- Birth and Marriage Certificates (Visas, passport services, applying for jobs both inside and outside of the U.S.A.) - TYPE 2
- Death Certificates (Applying for death benefits) - TYPE 2
- Divorce Papers (Applying for updated or lost car title, mortgages, or other types of loans) - TYPE 3
- Probate Papers (Applying for updated or lost car title, mortgages, or other types of loans) - TYPE 3
- Real Estate and Loan Documents (Cleaning up credit, mortgage loan, business loan) - TYPE 3
- Marriage Certificates (Visas, passport services, applying for jobs both inside and outside of the U.S.A.) - TYPE 3
- Contracts, letters, receipts, bills, and manuscripts (Law suits, for sharing with another party, proof of residency, proof of written documentation or fiction to be evidence for patenting or copyrighting) - TYPE 4
Handling the Four Document TypesTYPE 1 - Passports, Driver Licenses, Diplomas, Social Security Administration Cards.
This type of document is not technically not a public record--the indexed listing of the document is likely publically available, but the full transcript of the document is not available to the public for viewing. Unless a TYPE 1 document pertains to the person asking for certified copies of the original document, it would be difficult to get without a court order. However, they are part of the public record.
TYPE 1 documents are potent documents; if falsified, they could create credentials for a person which could lead to false IDs and endanger the general public. So, even though these documents can't be looked up online by the general public or accessed by walking into a clerk's office, my Texas notary administrator says Texas notaries should tell a client that he or she can write a statement about the copy. I can then provide an example of a certificate of acknowledgement and a jurat and allow the client to pick one.
That way, if I am presented with a fake document, I am not certifying it as a true copy. I would only be notarizing the signature of a person on statement.
Note that this would likely work for any state's notaries, but you must check with your state's notary public authorities if you are unsure.
TYPE 2 - Birth Certificates, Death Certificates, College Transcripts.
The original of a TYPE 2 document is held by the document custodian. As such, you will not be presented with an original. The original is usually held by a private college, government supported college, or an agency of a government entity.
The only way to get a notarial seal on a TYPE 2 document would be for the notary to tell a client that he or she can write a statement about the copy. The notary would then allow the client to pick a notarial certificate to attach. The notary could thereafter notarize the statement and signature relating to the document copy.
TYPE 3 - Divorce Documents, Probate Documents, Marriage Licenses, Real Estate Documents
These are traditionally part of the public record. A person may state in writing that the document is a true copy of the original. The notary would then allow the client to pick a notarial certificate to attach and notarize the statement and signature relating to the document copy.
In my opinion, the best practice for a notary would be to suggest that the client go directly to the agency that holds the original and request a certified copy. However, the client may have been told that all that is needed is a "notarized copy."
TYPE 4 - Contracts, Letters, Receipts, Bills, Manuscripts
Generally speaking, these documents aren't public records; they are personal documents. In states where a notary is allowed to attest or certify copies of documents the notary may proceed with the state's authorized method of performing the act.
More Notary Guidance
- Consumer Article: How to Get a Notarized Copy of a Driver's License (if a notary says he or she can't do that)
- Talking it Through -- Notarizing a Copy of a Passport (or Driver License) and this article is very helpful for new notaries!
- American Society of Notaries article - Making Certified or Attested Copies.
Methods and ToolsBecause your clients want the document that is being copied to show your notarial stamp, you need to figure out how to do that.
For this, I have three stamps.
- One with the certificate of acknowledgment verbiage on it
- One with all of the jurat verbiage on it
- One with the copy certification verbiage on it
Using a stamp with the verbiage of the certificate on it, I stamp the certificate right on the paper copy of the document so that the seal is on the same page as the copy.
I also keep a notary seal embosser with which I crimp the copy after stamping it. As a Texan, I can use colored ink on my seal, so I choose to use a dark but bright green ink or bright blue ink for my official seal stamped on the document. The verbiage stamps are in black.
One other thing that can be done is explained here: Consumer Article: How to Get a Notarized Copy of a Driver's License (if a notary says he or she can't do that).
These States May Certify or Attest CopiesYou should check with your own notarial laws to be sure, but to the best of my knowledge, the following states allow notaries to do some form of certifying or attesting a copy of a document.
California —Powers of Attorney only