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- Unofficial State of California Notary Public Handbook Summary
- This is an unofficial abridgement of the State of California Notary Public Handbook created for the purpose of studying for the Notary exam and for finding the most important information quickly. I'm sharing it here as a sort of "Cliff Notes" version. You're free to use it, but I make no claims of it's accuracy or of keeping it current, as the handbook may change at any time. The official California Notary Public information is available on the California Secretary of State website.
Unofficial Abridgement of the Notary Public Handbook of the State of California
Appointment and Qualifications
Be a legal resident of the state
Be at least 18 years of age
Complete a 6-hour course of study (3-hour if renewing)
Submit an application
Pass written exam administered by state
Pass background check
Applicant must disclose all arrests.
Applications may be denied for:
Failure to disclose an arrest
Conviction of a felony
Conviction of a lesser crime under certain circumstances
Notary Public Education
All notaries must take the six-hour approved notary course and thereafter a three-hour refresher course upon renewing their commission. The three-hour course must be completed before the commission expires. Once expired, the six-hour course is required even if completed in the past. The course must be one approved by the California Secretary of State.
Requirements and Time Limit for Qualifying
Once the notary commission has been issued, the applicant has 30 calendar days to file an oath of office and a $15,000 surety bond. The bond only provides limited funds for claims against the notary public who remains personally liable and may be required to reimburse the bonding company for any claims paid by them for misconduct or negligence on the part of the notary.
The notary public can provide notary services throughout the state of California. The venue on any notary certificate provided should be filled out with the name of the county where the signer personally appeared before the notary.
Acts Constituting Practice of Law
Notaries cannot perform any activities constituting anything that can be construed as practice of law, such as the preparation , drafting, selection or determination of a legal document, or even giving any advice regarding such document. If asked to do this the notary should decline and refer the person to an attorney for advice.
Notary Public Seal
Each notary is required to have a seal which is kept in a locked and secure place that is under the exclusive control of the notary. Even if hired as a notary, the seal is never to be given to anyone, including superiors, even if leaving their employment, and even if they paid for the seal.
The seal must:
Be reproducible when affixed to a document
Contain the State Seal and the words "Notary Public"
Contain the name of the notary public as it appears on their commission
Contain the county where the oath of office and notary bond are filed
Contain the expiration date of the commission
Contain the ID number assigned to the notary
Contain the ID number of the seal manufacturer
Be circular not over 2 inches in diameter, or rectangular not over 1 inch by 2-½ inches
Have a serrated or milled edge border
Notaries must make sure that their seal leaves a clear impression and is completely legible. Seals can't be stamped over signatures or any printed matter. Documents will be rejected if the above isn't strictly adhered to and can cause inconvenience and expense to all involved. There are very limited exceptions to using a seal on a document. See the official handbook for these rare exceptions.
A notary shall never use the official seal or title of notary for any other purpose other than the rendering of notarial service. It is a misdemeanor if a notary fails to keep his seal secure or lets anyone else use it or have access to it.
When the notary commission is no longer valid, the seal must be destroyed to prevent unauthorized use of it.
When completing an acknowledgement or a jurat, the notary is required to certify the identity of the signer of the document by verifying what is known as satisfactory evidence.
Satisfactory Evidence means:
The absence of any evidence that leads the notary to believe the person is not who they claim to be, and (a) paper identification, or (b) the oath of a single credible witness, or (c) the oaths of two credible witnesses under penalty of perjury as described below.
A. Paper Identification Documents. Notary being presented with any of the following documents that are current or issued within five years:
1. An ID Card or Driver's License issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
2. A United States Passport.
3. Other California-approved identification card, consisting of any one of those listed below, as long as it also has a photograph, description of the person, signature of the person, and identifying number.
a. a passport issued by a foreign government provided it has been stamped by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service or the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
b. a driver's license issued by another state or an official Canada or Mexico driver's license.
c. an identification card issued by another state.
d. a United States military ID card provided it is one with the required photo, description, signature and ID number (some military cards don't have this information).
e. an inmate identification card issued by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation if the inmate is in custody.
f. an employee identification card issued by an agency or office of the State of California, or an agency or office of a city, county, or city and county of the State of California.
The notary public must include the notary journal the type of identifying document, the governmental agency issuing the document, the serial or identification number, the date of issuance and date of expiration of the document.
B. Oath of a Single Credible Witness
The identity of the signer can be established by the oath of a single credible witness that the notary personally knows. The notary must establish the identity of the credible witness through documentation as described above (even though personally known to the notary public). Then under oath the credible witness must swear or affirm that the following is true:
1. The individual appearing before the notary public as the signer of the document, is the person named in the document;
2. The credible witness personally knows the signer;
3. The credible witness believes that it would be difficult or impossible for the signer to obtain another form of identification;
4. The signer does not possess any of the documents needed to establish identify;
5. The credible witness does not have any financial interest and is not named in the document signed.
The single credible witness then must sign the notary journal and the notary enters the information of the identifying document used to identify the credible witness as explained above.
C. Oaths of Two Credible Witnesses
The identify of the signer can be established by the oaths of two credible witnesses who the notary public does not personally know. The notary must establish the identity of the two credible witnesses through ID documentation as established above. Under oath the two credible witnesses swear or affirm under penalty of perjury to the same things as the single credible witness as set forth above.
The two credible witnesses must sign the notary journal and the notary must record the identifying documentation as for the single credible witness.
Notary Public Journal
Notary Public is required to keep one active sequential journal at a time. It must be kept in a locked, secured area under the control of the notary. It should contain the following information:
1. Date and time of each official act.
2. Type of document notarized.
3. Signature of each person notarized.
4. Statement that the identity of a person was based on satisfactory evidence as required above.
a. The type of identifying document with name of issuing agency, ID number, date of issue, date of expiration, or
b. Signature of credible witness with information from identifying document as above, or
c. Signatures of two credible witnesses with information from identifying documents as above.
5. The fee charged for the notarial service.
6. Right thumbprint if required for real estate related documents or power of attorney (or left thumbprint if unable to provide right, etc.).
If journal is lost or stolen notary must notify Secretary of State by Certified Mail with required information about the journal (see handbook for exact details).
When presented with a written request, the notary must respond within 15 days and provide a copy of the requested transaction or line item from the journal or an acknowledgement that no such item exists. The written request must include the name of the notarized parties, type of document notarized, month and year notarization took place. Charge for these copies must not exceed .30 per page.
The journal is the exclusive property of the notary and must not be given to anyone, including an employer who may have paid for the journal. For circumstances where a notary must by authorized individuals is in Government Code Section 8206(d).
It is a misdemeanor if the notary fails to maintain a proper journal as described above.
When a notary public's commission expires the journal is to be delivered to the county clerk of the county in which the oath is on file within 30 days. It is a misdemeanor to fail to do this. If the journal is delivered to the Secretary of State, it will be returned to sender.
Conflict of Interest
It's okay to notarize documents for relatives or others unless doing so would result in a direct financial or other beneficial interest to the notary public. For specific examples see the handbook. If in doubt consult an attorney.
The Certificate of Acknowledgement is the form most frequently completed by the notary public. The notary must use the form set forth by Civil Code Section 1189. See handbook or website for correct printable forms. In the Certificate of Acknowledgement the notary:
Certifies that the signer personally appeared before the notary on the date indicated and in the county indicated.
Certifies to the identity of the signer.
Certifies that the signer acknowledged that they executed the document.
The journal MUST contain a statement that the identity of the person making the acknowledgement or taking the oath was based on satisfactory evidence. If it was based on the use of credible witness(es) then it must contain their signatures and identification establishing the witness(es) identity and all the other information from the ID's as described before.
The Certificate of Acknowledgement must be filled out entirely at the time of the notary signs and affixes the notary seal. It is executed under penalty of perjury.
If a notary notarizes a document that contains statements they know to be false, they are liable for civil penalties up to $10,000 and administrative action, and it is also a criminal offense.
A notary may complete an Acknowledgement from another state or jurisdiction of the U.S. for documents to be filed in that location as long as they are not required to certify that the signer holds a particular position or make other certifications not allowed by California law.
Any Certificate of Acknowledgement taken within the State of California shall be in this form (see website for printable forms):
State of California
County of (fill in blank)
On (fill in date) before me, (insert name and title of notary), personally appeared (fill in names of all who appear to be notarized), who proved to me on the basis of satisfactory evidence to be the person(s) whose name(s) is/are subscribed to the within instrument and acknowledged to me that he/she/they executed the same in his/her/their authorized capacity(ies), and that by his/her/their signature(s) on the instrument the person(s), or the entity upon behalf of which the person(s) acted, executed the instrument.
I certify UNDER PENALTY OF PERJURY under the laws of the State of California that the foregoing paragraph is true and correct.
WITNESS my hand and official seal.
Notary Public Signature
Notary Public Seal
"Personally appeared" means in person. An acknowledgement cannot be mailed to a notary for notarization even if they personally know the signer. They always have to appear before the notary. The correct wording as shown above must be used.
The Jurat is the second most form completed by a notary public. It is identified by the words "subscribed to and sworn (or affirmed)." In the Jurat, the notary public:
Certifies that the signer personally appeared on the date and in the county indicated.
Certifies that the signer signed the document in their presence.
Certifies that the notary administered the oath or affirmation.
Certifies to the identification of the signer.
Any Jurat taken within the State of California shall be in this form:
State of California
County of (fill in blank)
Subscribed and sworn to (or affirmed) before me on this (fill in day) day of (fill in month), (fill in year), by (fill in name of signer(s), proved to me on the basis of satisfactory evidence to be the person(s) who appeared before me.
Notary Public Signature
Notary Public Seal
The signer of a Jurat has to personally appear, take an oath, and sign in the presence of the notary. The correct wording as shown above must be used.
There is no prescribed wording for delivering the oath, but an acceptable example would be: "Do you swear or affirm that the statements in this document are true?" Traditionally the notary and signer(s) raise their right hand, but this is not legally required.
Proof of Execution by a Subscribing Witness
If a person (principal) signed a document but does not personally appear before the notary public, another person can appear on their behalf to prove that person signed (executed) the document. That person is called a Subscribing Witness.
A Proof of Execution by a Subscribing Witness CANNOT be used in conjunction with real estate and other legal documents such as Quit Claim Deed, Grant Deed, Deed of Trust (see handbook for complete list).
The requirements for using a subscribing witness are as follows:
The subscribing witness must say under oath that the person who signed the document is the person described in the document and that they personally know that person.
The subscribing witness must say under oath that they saw the principal sign the document or in the presence of the principal heard the principal acknowledge that they signed the document.
The subscribing witness must say under oath that the principal asked them to sign the document as a witness and that they did so .
The notary public must establish the identity of the subscribing witness by the oath of a credible witness who the notary public personally knows and who personally knows the subscribing witness, AND the notary must also certify identification of the credible witness through satisfactory evidence of ID documentation as discussed previously.
Both the subscribing witness and the credible witness must sign the notary journal and the notary must record the ID information of the credible witness as discussed previously.
Proof of execution by a subscribing witness is not commonly used. See the example of a rare situation in the handbook and the proper wording for the form.
Signature by Mark
When a signer cannot sign his/her name, they can sign a document by mark.
The requirements for notarizing a signature by mark are as follows:
The notary public identifies the signer by mark by satisfactory evidence.
The signer's mark must be witnessed by two witnesses who must subscribe their own names as witnesses on the document. One of those witnesses should write the person's name next to his mark and then sign the document as a witness. The witnesses are only verifying that they saw the person sign his/her name by mark. The notary is not required to identify these two witnesses or have them sign the journal, unless they are also acting as credible witnesses.
The signer by mark must put his mark in the notary journal. This mark in the journal must be witnesses by someone who will write the person's name next to their mark and then sign the journal as witness to this mark. See handbook for examples and forms.
Powers of Attorney - Certifying
A notary can certify copies of powers of attorney. A certified copy of a power of attorney that has been certified by a notary public has the same force and effect as the original power of attorney. See handbook for wording and form. The notary public is certifying that they have seen the original and the copy and that the copy is a true and correct copy of the original.
Notarization of Incomplete Documents
A notary must refuse to notarize any document that is incomplete.
A notary can only certify copies of powers of attorney and pages from the notary journal. A notary can never certify copies of documents such as birth or death certificates.
California law requires that a notary (who is not also an attorney) that advertises their services in another language post a notice in English and the other language that they are not an attorney and cannot give legal advice. See exact requirements in the handbook.
A notary can notarize immigration documents, but cannot assist in completing immigration forms, unless they are also an attorney or an official immigration specialist. See handbook for exact requirements and laws.
Confidential Marriage Licenses
A notary must have specific authorization to issue confidential marriage licenses. See handbook.
Grounds for Denial, Revocation, or Suspension of Appointment and Commission
Some reasons for the above are, but not limited to the following:
Misstatement or omission on the application
Conviction of a felony
Failure to produce copies of the journal or information when requested by the Secretary of State
Charging more than the fees prescribed by law
Failure to complete the acknowledgement at the time of the notarization
Failure to keep the seal and/or journal secure
Failure to report the loss or theft of the journal or seal
Fraud relating to a Deed of Trust
Improper notarial acts
Unlawful acting as a notary
Failure to provide child support
Disciplinary guidelines are used to determine what actions will be taken for specific violations of the law. These are available at the Secretary of State's website.
Government Code 8211 specifies specific fees that may be charged for notary public services. A notary public may decide to charge less or no fee, but may not charge more than the maximum fee. The event still needs to be recorded in the notary journal.
See handbook for specific times when no fee may be charged.
Change of Address
The notary must notify the Secretary of State of a change of address within 30 days by Certified Mail. Failure to do so is punishable with a fine of up to $500. If the notary moves to a different county than where the original oath is filed, they do not need to file in the new county.
A notary can notarize a signature on a document in a foreign language in which the notary is not familiar since they are only acknowledging the signature and not the contents of the document. The notary should still be able to identify the nature of the document, and determine that the document appears to be complete. Also, a notary must always be able to communicate with the signer to verify that the signer has sworn an oath or affirmation or acknowledged a signature. An interpreter should not be used. If the notary cannot communicate satisfactorily with the signer, they should be referred to a notary who speaks their language.