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Notary Signing Explained

Court Basics

This article explains what it means to sign a document in front of a notary.

Learn more about what a notary is, what they are authorized to do, and what types of documents usually need to be notarized.

What is a notary?

A notary public, also known as a notary, is a public officer who is authorized by the state of Texas to perform certain legal functions.  

Notaries ensure the authenticity of legal documents and documents and verify the identities of the parties involved in a transaction. A few of a notary’s functions and authorized acts include witnessing signatures on documents, administering oaths, and certifying copies of official documents. 

Texas Government Code 406.016 is the law laying out the authorized acts of a notary.   

What does it mean to sign something in front of a notary?

When you sign something in front of a notary, it means that you are signing a document in the presence of a legally authorized public officer who is a disinterested party. The notary is responsible for verifying your identity, witnessing your signature, your reasons for signing the document, and certifying the document as authentic. 

What types of documents need to be signed in front of a notary?

Generally, the types of documents that require a notary are those that have legal or financial significance. Some common types of documents that require notarization are as follows: 

  • Legal documents: Affidavits and power of attorney forms. 
  • Real estate documents: Deeds, mortgages, and lease agreements. 
  • Immigration documents: Visa applications. 
  • Financial documents: Loan agreements, promissory notes, and bills of sale. 

Note: In Texas, wills and trusts are not required to be notarized (a notary is required if you want to make your will self-proving.) 

Does it cost anything to get something signed by a notary?

Typically, notaries charge a fee for their services. Some banks offer free notary services for their clients. 

Can I get my document notarized online?

Yes. Texas Government Code, Chapter 406, Subchapter C, governs online notarization. “Online notarization” means a notarial act performed by means of two-way video and audio conference technology that meets the standards adopted under Section 406.104

When can I use an unsworn declaration instead of a notary?

An unsworn declaration can be used instead of a  notary in various instances where a document typically necessitates notarization. Specifically, it can serve as a substitute for notarization in the following situations: 

  1. A written sworn declaration. 
  2. Verification. 
  3. Certification. 
  4. An oath. 
  5. An affidavit. 
  6. required by statute or required by a rule, order, or requirement adopted as provided by law. 

However, it's important to note that notarization remains a requirement in the following circumstances: 

  1. A lien required to be filed with a county clerk. 
  2. When dealing with an instrument related to real or personal property that needs to be filed with a county clerk. 
  3. For oaths of office or oaths that must be administered by a specific official other than a notary public. 
  4. swearing under oath that you are waiving service of process in other case types (mostly family law matters such as divorces, emancipations, name changes, and custody suits) unless you are an inmate. 

What is an unsworn declaration?

Pursuant to Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code Section 132.001, an unsworn declaration is a written statement, signed under penalty of perjury, and without the use of a notary. 

What does it mean to sign something under penalty of perjury?

Signing under penalty of perjury means that if you are found not telling the truth in the form, you could be criminally prosecuted for lying. See Texas Penal Code chapter 37

If a notary signs our custody agreement, will It hold up in court?

No. If two people sign a custody agreement in front of a notary and they sign it, that does not mean that the custody agreement is binding and enforceable. The custody agreement will only serve as evidence of what the two people wanted.  

Note: You can get a binding agreement by signing a Rule 11 agreement, a mediated settlement agreement (MSA), and agreed orders. For more information on getting a binding agreement please contact a lawyer. 

Do contracts have to be signed by a notary?

No. It is not a requirement to sign a contract in front of a notary. Signing a contract in front of a notary will not make it “more” binding or enforceable than it otherwise would be. To learn what is required for a valid contract, read Understanding Contracts.  

How do I find a notary?

  •  Some public libraries offer free notary services.
  • Ask your bank or credit union. They often offer notary services at no charge.
  • If you are represented by a lawyer who works for a legal aid office, ask if the office has a notary—whether on-site or virtual—for clients.
  • Some courthouses may have a notary service for a reasonable fee.
  • Sometimes, your workplace may have a notary.
  • Shipping and mailing stores often employ notaries.
  • The Texas Secretary of State's office's website has a notary search tool you can use to confirm whether a notary is properly licensed in Texas. 

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