There are three major kinds of notarial act — acknowledgments, jurats and copy certifications:
Acknowledgments. The acknowledgment is typically performed on documents controlling or conveying ownership of valuable assets. Such documents include real property deeds, powers of attorney and trusts. For an acknowledgment, the signer must appear in person at the time of notarization to be positively identified and to declare (“acknowledge”) that the signature on the document is his or her own, that it was willingly made and that the provisions in the document are intended to take effect exactly as written.
Jurats. The jurat is typically performed on evidentiary documents that are critical to the operation of our civil and criminal justice system. Such documents include affidavits, depositions and interrogatories. For a jurat, the signer must appear in person at the time of notarization to sign the document and to speak aloud an oath or affirmation promising that the statements in the document are true. (An oath is a solemn pledge to a Supreme Being; an affirmation is an equally solemn pledge on one’s personal honor.) A person who takes an oath or affirmation in connection with an official proceeding may be prosecuted for perjury should he or she fail to be truthful.
Certified Copies. The copy certification is performed to confirm that a reproduction of an original document is true, exact and complete. Such originals might include college degrees, passports and other important one-and-only personal papers which cannot be copy-certified by a public record office such as a bureau of vital statistics and which the holder must submit for some purpose but does not want to part with for fear of loss. This type of notarization is not an authorized notarial act in every state, and in the jurisdictions where it is authorized, may be executed only with certain kinds of original document.
Each state and U.S. territorial jurisdiction adopts its own laws governing the performance of notarial acts. While these different notarial laws are largely congruent when it comes to the most common notarizations, namely acknowledgments and jurats, there are unusual laws in a number of states. In the state of Washington, for example, certification of the occurrence of an act or event is an authorized notarization. And in Maine, Florida and South Carolina, performing a marriage rite is an allowed notarial act.
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