What Is a Notary Public?

A notary public is someone granted authority by a state to witness the signing of official documents and notarize them with an official seal carrying the notary's signature and the date, according to the American Society of Notaries. Ensuring signatures are given voluntarily and with sound judgment is important.

The purpose of the notarization process is to provide an objective witness to a document signing who is appointed by the state, reports the National Notary Association. A notary public only affirms signatures when the signers are physically there and present identification. Prior to notarizing the document, the notary public gauges whether the signers are of sound mound and aware of what they are signing.

As of 2015, there are 4.4 million public notaries in the United States, according to the National Notary Association. Nine states require individuals to undergo some form of training or education to become a notary, while 12 states require an individual to pass an exam. The cost to become a notary varies from less than $100 to multiples hundreds of dollars. In general, a criminal record disqualifies an individual from serving as a notary public.