Is a Notarized Document Legal in Court?
If you’re preparing for court proceedings, you may be wondering whether a notarized document is legally binding. A notarized document is a document certified with the signature and the seal of the office of a notary public – a government official who verifies the identities of the signatories. The notary or other person taking your “acknowledgment” may be one of the witnesses and documents the notarization process.
By ensuring the signatories are authentic, a notarized document serves as an impartial witness and is legally binding in court services where the integrity of the parties named in court documents are required. In this blog we will explore the legal standing of a notarized document, common misconceptions about notarization, grounds for challenging a notarized document, and other things you need to know.
How to Notarize A Document?
The notary public serves as a credible witness to the signing of a legal document. To notarize a document, the notary takes several steps, including:
- Verifying the identity of the Signatory: The notary verifies the identity of the signatories by checking their government-issued valid IDs – passports, driver’s licenses, birth certificates, etc.
- Ensuring the willingness/understanding of the parties involved: Before notarizing documents, the notary ensures that the document signer understands the content. The notary may also ask questions to confirm that each party is signing the document voluntarily.
- Recording the act in a notarial journal:
After the document is signed, the notary documents the act in the notarial act for reference and evidence of authenticity.
- Affixing the notarial seal: Finally, the notary affixes the notary seal on the document, which confirms that the document has been properly notarized.
Purpose and Benefits of Notarization
Authentication and trustworthiness of documents
Notarization certifies the authenticity and credibility of legally binding documents, making it difficult for case parties to dispute the legitimacy of the documents. This is crucial in legal and financial transactions such as deeds, loan documents, contracts, or wills, where the authenticity and the accuracy of information are critical. Notarizing documents proves that the identified parties understood and voluntarily signed the document.
Deterrence of Fraud
The presence of a notary in a transaction helps prevent deceptive practices such as forgery of signature, manipulation of information, and unauthorized signature. This validates the integrity of the transaction and protects the parties from fraudulent claims.
Testament to the Authenticity of the Signature
A notarized copy of a document serves as evidence that the signatories were verified and participated willingly in the signing of the document. In other words, the signatory cannot deny the authenticity of the signature in legal proceedings.
Ensuring Clarity and Mutual Understanding Between Parties
Beyond signature verification, notarization ensures clarity and mutual understanding between parties. The notary ensures the signatories understand the information in the document and the implications of their signature. This promotes transparency and prevents possible disputes that may arise from misinformation or misunderstanding.
Legal Standing of Notarized Documents
Notarized documents are generally accepted in the court as legally binding documents. However, the limitation of notarization is that it does not guarantee the accuracy and legality of a document’s contents. So, a notarized document is not necessarily a certified or authenticated document.
A document is authenticated when a government agency certifies its accuracy and validity. While notarization validates the signature and the identity of the signatory, certified copies carry a government seal and endorsement, adding an extra layer of reliability and recognition to the document.
Nevertheless, there are instances where notarized documents are typically required in court proceedings. Such instances include:
- Property deeds: The transfer of ownership in real estate transactions require notarized documents. The notary’s seal on the document assures the court that the property transfer was legitimate.
- Wills and Trusts: Many jurisdictions require the notarization of wills to authenticate the testator’s signature and also proves adherence to legal standards.
- The Power of Attorney: The notary stamp on the Power of the Attorney (POA) assures the court that the grantor willingly and consciously conferred the authority on the agent to act on their behalf.
- Affidavits: Notarizing an affidavit confirms that the oath taker is the affiant and has sworn to the accuracy of the content.
The legal standing of a notarized document depends on many factors, such as the notarial system of the country. For example, in civil law countries like France, notaries often play highly significant roles and this can influence how a notarized document is viewed. While some countries value a document notarized as authentic proof, others consider notarization just one factor in document admissibility.
Limitations and Misconceptions About Notarization
One common misconception about notarization is that it automatically validates the legality of a document. This is not true as notarization does not validate the authenticity of the content of a document. The role of the notary is to verify the identities of the signatories and witness their signatures. The notary does not verify the genuineness or compliance of a document with legal requirements.
Hence, notarized documents are not immune to scrutiny in court proceedings. They’re subject to examination and cross-examination, and the opposing party can challenge the validity of a notarized document based on legal grounds.
To assess the admissibility of a notarized document, the court considers various factors such as the relevance of the document to the case, the authenticity of the document, and available evidence in the case.
Legal Grounds for Challenging a Notarized Document in Court
Some legal grounds can provide a strong basis for challenging the authenticity of a notarized document. Examples of these legal grounds include:
- Tampering of a notarized document: The court may question the validity of a document if there’s a direct or indirect proof that the document was tampered with.
- Suspicion of forgery or fraud: If the document contains false information or the signature was forged, it can provide a strong ground for challenging the validity of the document.
- The original and copy are not both notarized: Presenting a notarized photocopy when the original document is not notarized may raise disputes over the validity of the document, leading to possible rejection of the notarized copy.
- Signatory’s incapacity or duress during the signature: A party may challenge the validity of a notarized copy in a case where there’s sufficient evidence to prove that the signatory was not in a sound mental state or under coercion when signing the document.
- Invalid notary seal: The legal authority of a notary is what makes a notarized document legal. Hence, if the notary is not authorized at the time of notarization, it can render the document invalid. This usually happens when the notary’s office term expires before the notarization date.
- Unlawful Content: A notarized document may be challenged in court despite bearing a notary seal if it contains any unlawful content of any kind. Hence, the content has to be legally compliant to make a notarized document valid.
- Notary’s misconduct: A document notarized under any form of misconduct such as failure to follow the standard notarization procedures may be challenged and rejected in court.
How to Challenge a Notarized Document in the Court
- File a motion in the court and present sufficient evidence to support your claims. Evidence may include witness testimony, affidavits, photos, videos, and any relevant record.
- Initiate a service of process. Note that you must be conversant and compliant with the rules and requirements governing service of process, otherwise, the court could quash your motion. This is why you should seek the help of professional process servers. Our professional process servers at On Call Legal are available 24/7 and ready to serve your document without delay.
- Following the motion, the court may schedule a hearing, giving you the opportunity to present your case. The defaulting individuals may face legal consequences such as fines or imprisonment if the court approves the motion and invalidates the document. The court may also deny your motion if the other party proves the notarized document valid.
Tips for Ensuring Your Notarized Document Stands Strong in Court
- Proper storage and handling of the original document: Keep the document in a safe and controlled location to avoid tampering. Also, handle the original documents carefully to avoid damage, accidental alteration, or loss.
- Cross-check the notary’s credentials: Examine the notary’s credentials to ensure they’re licensed and authorized to notarize documents. To do this, visit the state’s office or local authority overseeing the notary.
- Ensure the notary properly records the act in their journal: The notary must document every notarial act in the notarial journal. Ensure that the notary accurately records every detail, including date, time, type of document, signatory’s identification details such as birth certificates, and other relevant records. Where necessary, obtain the notarial certificates as reference.
- Obtain additional forms of authentication or certification if necessary: To strengthen the authenticity and validity of the document, you may need to obtain additional certifications like apostille, especially if the document will be used internationally.
A Brief History
Notary public services originated in ancient Rome, where the ‘notarius’ – the Roman word for notary – was responsible for recording legal documents and transactions. The notarius would use disc and hot wax to append signatures on a document to confirm its authenticity. The notary service was later adopted by many countries in Europe, including England, Spain, and France.
In America, the notary service dates back to the colonial era, with the first American notary, Thoma Fugil, appointed in 1639. Back then, only individuals of high moral character were appointed as notary public to ensure the integrity of important documents. Today, each state has its own rules and regulations governing the appointment of a Notary public.
Notarization deters fraud and ensures the authenticity of the signers’ identity, making it a valuable tool to make a document legally binding. However, it has limitations as it does not guarantee the truthfulness of the content of the document. It’s recommended to seek legal advice when using a notarized document to ensure compliance with legal standards. If you’re preparing for a legal action, contact us today at On-Call Legal for an effective and hassle-free process service.