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What Can a Notary Public Do or Cannot Do?

posted May 29, 2016, 5:10 PM by AG Pro Serve Intl.

If you are contemplating becoming a notary public, this is important stuff! Many people are confused about what a notary public can or cannot do. Those from other countries where notaries are lawyers may think that notaries in the U.S. are also lawyers or attorneys and can provide legal advice, explain documents, write up legal documents, modify terms, etc. As I wrote on a previous post, notaries in the U.S (except in LA in which they are civil notaries) do not need to be lawyers and have limited powers. This basic rule applies to Notaries who are also Signing Agents.

There is a difference between a notary public and a civil notary or notary at law; those are also lawyers and do have a broader power. In fact, here in Florida, unless you are legally a lawyer, a notary public cannot offer legal advice in any way! Doing so is a breach of duty and can get your commission suspended or revoked. You can read more from this article on Wikipedia.

Here are some of the things a notary public can do in Florida:

  • All notarial acts must be performed only within the Florida State (or within your state) and only until your commission expires. Your commission is non-transferable. You cannot transfer it to someone else or from/to another state.
  • Solemnize the rites of matrimony (perform a marriage ceremony) within the geographical boundaries of the state – FL is the only of 3 states that allow a notary to do that – couple must have a Florida marriage license from an authorized Florida official
  • Advertise services & charge per notarial act a maximum of $10. & $30. to solemnize a matrimony (Refer to my previous post)
  • Wills
  • Take acknowledgments
  • Administer oaths
  • Affidavits
  • Depositions
  • Attest to photocopies *(see below for which documents a notary cannot attest)
  • Verify a VIN on a vehicle
  • Certify the contents of a safety box
  • A notary can be one of the witnesses on a document as long as his or her signature does not need to be notarized since he or she cannot notarize his or her own signature.
  • Can translate documents, but need to find another notary to notarize the translation affidavit.
  • Read the content of the document and ask if the person understood and agrees with it
  • Notarize the signature in foreign documents
  • Etc.
Those are basic things a notary public can do. Remember that notaries notarize signatures, not documents. Now let’s see some of the things he or she cannot do in Florida:

Prohibited Acts:

  • Cannot translate the title Notary Public into any other language
  • Cannot notarize if you have any financial interest in the transaction
  • Cannot offer legal advice, explain t, write or modify terms on a document, etc.
  • Cannot notarize blank or incomplete documents (You wouldn’t sign a blank check, right? Same principle!)
  • Cannot notarize translations, but the signature of the translator. A person bringing a document in another language to be notarized must contact the translator to be present to take an oath and sign an affidavit stating he or she has translated accurately the document since his or her signature is the one that has to be notarized, not of the owner of the document.
  • Cannot notarize the signature of someone who is not present, in person
  • * Cannot certify or notarize or provide copies: the following documents are examples of public records, copies of which cannot be attested to by a notary: Birth certificate, marriage certificate, death certificate, certificate of citizenship or naturalization, documents filed in a court proceeding, documents recorded by the Clerk of the Court, public records maintained in government offices, student records (transcripts, etc.) kept in public education offices, federal or state income tax forms, already filed, professional licenses issued by the State of Florida, any document for which photocopying is prohibited, etc. This is not a complete list of public records. If the document is issued by a government entity, the notary should contact that entity to determine whether a certified copy is available. If one is available, then the notary public must decline to make an attested photocopy. Additionally, the notary should ask the person if the document has been filed in a court proceeding or in the official records at the courthouse (
  • Cannot notarize photographs or certify the authenticity of objects, memorabilia, etc.
  • Cannot notarize his or her own signature or of immediate family members: spouse, son, daughter, mother, or father.
  • Etc.

For more detailed & precise information from the FL government, please see:

  •  FL Governor’s Reference Manual for Notaries
  • FAQ’s from the FL Department of State
It’s vital for a notaries to know the exact rules so they can avoid notarizing, attesting to documents when they have no authority to do so, compromising their commission and reputation, and avoiding fraud and legal issues for the people they serve, not to mention getting into deep and serious legal trouble and paying a lot of money for that!

by Alessandra Jackson
AG Pro Serve Intl.