What is a Notary?

A notary, also called a notary public, is a person authorized to witness the signing of legal documents, usually concerned with deeds, estates, licenses, power of attorney, affidavits, and trusts. As a publicly commissioned official, a notary is tasked with verifying the authenticity of documents, and they serve as impartial witnesses when signing legal documents.
Legal documents are notarized to ensure that transactions are properly executed and to deter fraud. When verifying the authenticity of documents, notaries are required to identify signatories to a document to weed out impostors and to ensure that parties enter into an agreement willingly and knowingly.
Notaries are appointed by a government authority, such as a court or state governments, or by a regulatory body, such as a faculty of notaries public. Although notaries are public officials, they do not receive remuneration from the government, and they earn income by charging fees for services rendered.
Duties of a Notary
The main role of a notary is to verify the authenticity of legal documents and create a trustworthy environment for parties to an agreement. The legal documents must meet the minimum requirements to be notarized. Some of the requirements include a stated commitment, original signatures from the parties involved in the agreement, as well as photo identification of the signatories.
If a notary is satisfied that the document meets all the requirements, he/she awards a notarial certificate and appends the seal of the notary on the document. However, if a legal document does not meet the requirements or the identity of the participating parties is uncertain, a notary may refuse to authenticate the document.

The following are a list of things a notary is not permitted to do:

1. Notarize a document for a principal or subscribing witness who is not present before the notary. This is a misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to a $500.00 fine or imprisonment of up to 30 days, or both.

2. Notarize a document where the principal or subscribing witness is not known to the notary and is not identified through satisfactory evidence. This is a misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to a $500.00 fine or imprisonment of up to 30 days, or both.

3. Perform a notarization related to an acknowledgement, verification or proof, oath or affirmation, if the notary knows it is false or fraudulent. This is a misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to a $500.00 fine or imprisonment of up to 30 days, or both.

4. Notarize a document when the notary signs, is party to, or benefits from the document being notarized. Limited exceptions to this include: a. Court employees b. Notaries who are not parties to a document, but are named in the document as: i. Person to whom document will be sent after recording; ii. Trustee in a deed of trust; iii. Drafter of the document; or iv. Attorney for a party to the document.

5. Notarize a document where the notary will directly receive a commission, fee, interest, or other consideration exceeding the permissible fees for notarial acts. Limited exceptions to this include fees or other consideration paid for services rendered by: a. Licensed attorneys; b. Licensed real estate brokers or salespersons; c. Motor vehicle dealers; or d. Bankers.

6. Notarize a document that is blank or incomplete.

7. Notarize a document without notarial certificate wording. 10

8. Certify or authenticate a photograph or photocopy. However, the holder of the document may sign an affidavit certifying the authenticity of a photocopy which is then notarized, except when a certified copy is available from an official source (for example, vital records).
9. Notarize a document outside the state of South Carolina.

10. Notarize your own signature.

11. Offer legal advice unless you are a licensed attorney.

12. Postdate or predate your notarial acts.

13. Certify vital records. Certification of vital records must be done by officials in the country, state, or county offices that issue and keep those records. Vital records include birth certificates, marriage licenses, death certificates, divorce decrees, and documents of that nature. If a notary is convicted of one of these acts that constitutes a misdemeanor, he or she must forfeit his notary commission and not be issued another commission. The court that convicts a notary public of these acts must inform the Secretary of State?s Office within 10 days of the conviction. In addition, certain acts committed by a non-notary may also constitute a crime pursuant to S.C. Code of Laws ?26-1-160.

These actions are misdemeanors that carry a penalty of up to a $500.00 fine or imprisonment of up to 30 days, or both.

 The following actions are prohibited for persons who are not notaries:

1. Performing a notarial act knowing that you are not a notary.

2. Holding oneself out to the public as a notary without a notary commission.

3. Performing a notarial act if the notary's commission is expired, suspended, or restricted.

4. Performing a notarial act before taking the oath of office.

5. Using, concealing, defacing, or destroying a notary?s seal or notarial records.

6. Knowingly soliciting, coercing, or materially influencing a notary to commit official misconduct. A person who does this is guilty of aiding and abetting and is subject to the same level of punishment as the notary.