What is a notary and do I need one?

If you are dealing with an overseas legal matter or with any formal documentation that will be used abroad, you are likely to have been asked to have documents “notarised” i.e signed in the presence of a notary.

But what is a notary? Why do you need a notary? And how do you find a notary? Read on to find out…

If you have a document that requires notarisation, contact Worldwide Lawyers on 01244 470 339 or at info@worldwidelawyers.co.uk. Our friendly representatives will be happy to assist you and  put you in touch with a notary who can help you.

What is a notary?

In England and Wales, a notary (also known as a notary public or a public notary) is a particular type of legal professional who prepares, witnesses or certifies documents specifically for use abroad.

Many notaries are also solicitors but not many solicitors are also qualified as notaries. There are often only a handful of notaries within each town/ city.

What does a notary do?

Often a document, such as a power of attorney, sworn statement, affidavit or certificate of law will be required for use in a foreign country.

Usually a foreign lawyer (or an organisation such as a bank or pension provider) will have prepared the document and the person who is required to sign this document will be asked to sign it in front of a notary.

The reason the document must be signed in front of a notary is because notaries must verify

  • the identity of the persons signing;
  • their authority to sign;
  • their legal capacity; and
  • their understanding of the document.

This adds a layer of security for the person receiving the document and for any other person or organisation that will rely upon it in the foreign country.

If the document must be sworn in front of a notary, the person signing will also be required to swear an oath to the notary confirming the truthfulness of the contents of the document. A notary is a Commissioner For Oaths which means they have the power to administer oaths and affirmations. Anyone who wilfully makes untruthful statements under oath commits the criminal offence of perjury and can be prosecuted.

The notary’s purpose therefore is to help guard against fraud, as the notary confirms that the person is who they say they are and ensures that the person signing the document does so by their own free will and understands the effect of the document.

What type of documents require a notary?

Notaries are commonly asked to assist businesses and individuals who have interests abroad. Notaries commonly deal with:

  • Preparing and authenticating powers of attorney for use abroad
  • Dealing with documents relating to the purchase or sale of land and property abroad
  • Providing documents to deal with the administration of estates where the deceased lived abroad, or owned assets abroad
  • Authenticating information for immigration or emigration purposes
  • Authenticating educational or professional qualifications for people wishing to work or study abroad.
  • Authenticating declarations of freedom to marry for people getting married abroad
  • Authenticating company and business documents and transactions
  • Providing certificates as to the status of a company or the identity of its directors

Why do I need to sign in front of a notary?

If a document is going to be used abroad you will usually require the signature and seal of a notary so that anyone who will use/receive the document in the foreign country will recognise the document as validly signed by the appropriate person/people and in the required way.

Every notary has a unique official seal which is engraved with a personal symbol. Documents which have this seal and are signed by a notary are internationally recognised are treated as good evidence of the truthfulness of the information contained within the document. The notary’s signature and seal authenticates the document.

Once the document has the signature and seal of a notary, it can be recognised in the relevant foreign country. Without this authentication documents that require notarisation will not be accepted abroad.

Many countries however also require a further level of security so, as well as being notarised, the document must also be ‘legalised’.

Do you have to see a notary face to face? 

For some documents it may be possible for the notarisation to take place over video-call, for more information see: Can you have a document notarised via video-call? 

What is legalisation?

Just as a notary authenticates the signature of their client, legalisation is the process by which the signature and seal of the Notary are then authenticated by the UK Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) and/or the Embassy or Consulate of the country in which the document is to be used.

The FCO authenticates documents by way of an “Apostille” which is certificate affixed to the document.

The legalisation requirements are determined by the country or state where the document is going to be used and so it is their rules that must be complied with. The legalisation requirements will therefore be different depending on which country your document is for.

Legalisation is usually required by countries who are signatories to the Hague Convention and the Apostille is sufficient for these countries. Some other countries also require the document to be further authentication by their own Embassy/ Consulate.

There are many places where legalisation is not required, for example current or former British Commonwealth countries and many parts of the United States.

Your Notary will usually be able to advise you as to whether your particular document requires legalisation by the FCO or if any further legalisation is required by the relevant embassy or consulate.

If you have a document that requires notarisation please do not hesitate to contact Worldwide Lawyers on 01244 470 339 or at info@worldwidelawyers.co.uk. We will be happy to put you in touch with a notary who can assist you.