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Notary Public Qualifications

by Lainie Petersen

The primary role of notaries public is to certify the legitimacy of signatures on documents. Other notary powers depend on state laws and may include certifying copies, taking oaths and in a few states, officiating at weddings. States appoint notaries public and each state government establishes its own requirements for becoming one.

Education and Exams

Completion of an educational course or commissioning examination is a requirement to become a notary in many state, though not all. States that do require education and examinations sometimes waive these qualifications for attorneys or government workers. Notary professional associations sometimes offer specialized training courses for notaries who wish to improve their skills or enhance their professional reputations.

Language Fluency

Many states require notaries to be fluent in English. Fluency in other languages can also be helpful in building a notary practice, as laws in some states restrict a notary's ability to notarize documents written in a foreign language. Even in those states where it is legal for a notary to notarize a document in a language that he can't read, a notary's knowledge of the language greatly reduces the risk of fraud. According to the National Notary Association, it is illegal in all states, except for Arizona, for a notary to communicate with a client though an interpreter, making it essential for notaries to be able to speak and understand the languages of their clients.

Personal Background

States often require notaries to submit to a background investigation, which may require fingerprinting and disclosure of any criminal convictions or revocations of a notary commission in another state. Individuals who have a criminal history should check their state's laws to find out if they are still eligible for a notary commission, as a criminal background doesn't always disqualify someone from becoming a notary. New York, for example, will consider the application of a person with a criminal conviction if a parole board issues her a certificate of good conduct. Some states, such as California, also require notaries to be current on their child support obligations.

Bonding and Insurance

According to the National Notary Association, many states require notaries to hold surety bonds. Surety bonds reimburse individuals who are financially affected by mistakes made by a notary. Many notaries also carry errors and omissions insurance, which protects the notary's finances and legal interests in case the notary is accused of negligence or misconduct.

Other Qualifications

Other common requirements for becoming a notary include age and residency restrictions. Many states require notaries to be at least 18 years old and a legal resident of the state. Some states, such as Oregon, may allow residents of bordering states to become notaries if the notary works or frequently does business in the appointing state.

About the Author

Lainie Petersen writes about business, real estate and personal finance, drawing on 25 years experience in publishing and education. Petersen's work appears in Money Crashers, Selling to the Masses, and in Walmart News Now, a blog for Walmart suppliers. She holds a master's degree in library science from Dominican University.

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