Near my home is a Navy Federal Credit Union branch. Being a member, I availed myself of their convenient location; this last weekend I had several documents for the Virginia Bar notarized. While standing in line, I had an opportunity to chat with another customer who was curious about what, exactly, a notary does. I thought I would explain the basics of notary lore, and remind you that our VA office provides notary service, too!
The two main duties of a notary (but by no means the only ones) are the taking of jurats and acknowledgments.
A jurat is an oath, administered by the notary, stating that the individual making the oath "swears or affirms" the truth of the matter asserted in the document. Note, it is not the notary swearing the document is truthful; it is the individual who gives the oath to the notary. A jurat has legally binding power, but requires that the affiant have actual knowledge of the information they are affirming, and that they have the capacity to swear an oath. Essentially -- someone swearing an oath or "affirming" a document is making a legally binding declaration that the information they are validating is truthful and they can be held liable if it is not.
An acknowledgement is a certification by the notary that the person who signed a document or performed some act was really who he/she said he/she was. In effect, a signer "acknowledges" his/her signature in the presence of the notary. The signer bears no legal responsibility for the content of the document; and no promises or "oaths" are given as to the truthfulness of anything contained in the document. When an acknowledgement is given, it is the notary that has a legal duty to verify the identity of the signer. Each state has its own requirements for this, but most expect valid state identification such as a driver's license as sufficient proof of identity upon which a notary may rely.
Other than wills, and certain specific legal documents that the state specifies require witnesses (attestation) to be valid, acknowledgements may be used on any document.
Generally, acknowledgments are used when proof of who has ordered the execution of something is required. An oath is required when proof of content (fact, history, etc.) or completed action is required.
"Go! Launch all the ship!" -- General (acknowledgment)
"Sir! I have launched all the ships!" -- Lieutenant (jurat)
Do you have question about legal documents? Call and ask us (703-402-2723)! We're happy to help, and your first call is always free.
Sean R. Hanover, Esq