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What is a Notary Public?

In Ohio, a Notary Public is a sworn officer, commissioned under state law with the power to administer oaths, certify affidavits, take acknowledgements, and otherwise act a as an impartial witness. In many (but not all) counties (including Franklin), an examination must be passed demonstrating knowledge of the various rules, laws, statutes, and duties of the office.

A Notary Public is a guardian of the public trust, and must perform his/her duties in strict compliance with Ohio laws, with absolute integrity and adhering to the highest ethical standards. Ohio residents apply in their county of residence, and are commissioned through the Secretary of State.

The title and office of Notary Public is an ancient and honorable one, dating back over two thousand years to the Roman Empire. Notaries serve in every state/territory of the Union, and in nearly every country of the world.

It’s important to note that a commission as a Notary Public is not to be confused with a license to practice law and, in fact, a notary is specifically prohibited from practicing law or giving legal advice unless the notary is also an attorney.

The primary responsibility of every Notary Public is to protect the public by deterring fraud. As a commissioned officer of the state, the notary has a duty to ensure all elements of notarization are met:

  • Physical personal appearance and proper identification of all persons affixing their signature(s) to any document requiring a notary act
  • The signer is aware of the document’s content, and that there are no blank spaces
  • The signer is executing their signature freely, without duress or coercion
  • The exact date, and venue county of the notarization are correct
  • Administration of an oath/affirmation, when required
  • Properly executing the notary certificate with the name, signature, and commission expiration date of the notary, and affixing the official seal
  • The notary is acting as an impartial witness, and may not have any interest in, or benefit from, the document containing the notarized signature(s).

Additionally, an Ohio notary may NOT perform any notarial acts until their commission has been recorded by the Clerk of Courts in the county where they reside. It’s also important to note that it is signatures, not documents, which are notarized. Notarization does not make any document “legal”; it means only that the signers have satisfied the required elements for their signature as shown above.

In today’s complex world, an increasing number of companies and government agencies are requiring notarized signatures for their documents to ensure the signer’s identity. As they have for over 2,000 years, the Notary Public stands as the primary line of defense against fraud for the citizens they are sworn to serve.

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