Does a notary public need to understand a document to notarize it?


Part of starting a startup with a foreign partner is notarizing documents. Some documents are in non English language. The documents need to be notarized in the US. I contacted some notaries and received different answers. Some said they only notarize the signature and don't care about the document language and some did not want to notarize a document if they can't read it.

I am not sure who is correct. I feel their answers reflect personal attitudes rather than professional or legal ones.

Isn't the notary's job to verify that the signature is the one who signed it with verification of person's ID or it goes further to the document too? Do they need to understand what is in a document to notarize it? The question is from the professional side. I understand they can refuse serving any clients as they desire.

Legal Documents

asked Dec 29 '11 at 11:41
Tony Henrich
283 points

4 Answers


So far as my knowledge goes and as it is in practice here, Notary are not concerned with the content. They are concern with the identity of the person signing it. If you can establish the identity, sign on the documents in front of him, the Notary should have no problem in notarizing the signature. It is an evidence that you have signed the documents. No link with the content whatsoever.

answered Dec 29 '11 at 12:25
Natwar Lath
294 points
  • +1 for the basic answer. Please see my answer below for understanding the confusion among the different individuals Tony spoke with. – Joseph Barisonzi 12 years ago


In general, Yes. the notary is primarily responsible for confirming the identify of the individual who is signing a document. If that is all you are seeking, then find a notary who limits their role to that. But that is not the whole story!

In the United States, a notary is licensed on a sate by state basis. The specific roles and responsibilities of the notary are different in each state. Here is a link to the state regulations.

As with most profesisonal, a professional association has emerged. One of the tasks the association takes on is the development of a code of conduct. You can see it here.

As you will note -- the #4 item on the code of conduct is:

The Notary shall not execute a false or incomplete certificate, nor be
involved with any document or transaction that the Notary believes is
false, deceptive or fraudulent.

Each Notary can interpret that in a variety of ways. Some will approach it with a "don't ask-don't tell" policy of focusing on the "believes is . . " clause. Meaning only if they know it to be false or incomplete as opposed to needed to know it is not false and that it is complete.

The bottom line is whether the Notary is legally responsible to that principle-- or is ethically bound to that principle will be determined by the individual and the state that they are in.

answered Dec 30 '11 at 03:23
Joseph Barisonzi
12,141 points
  • I guess I can just go with the one who's concerned with just the signature. This doesn't mean it's a lesser quality of service. – Tony Henrich 12 years ago
  • For the sake of disclosure -- and improvement of the quality of the board -- will the person who downvoted this provide some feedback on how this answer could be improved? Thanks! – Joseph Barisonzi 12 years ago
  • @Tony_Henrich Sounds perfect. For verifying a signature the stamp and signature are a commodity without quality differentiation. – Joseph Barisonzi 12 years ago


Each state has different rules that the Notary must follow. As a Notary Public in PA, it is true that I do not have to understand the document. However,
1.I must verify that the person is the person who is supposed to sign the document. For example, if you are signing for someone as Power of Attorney then you must present the original power of Attorney. I can't assume that because you state you have POA that you do.

2. The document must be complete. It cannot be a blank document that you complete later. This is because you are stating everything is true & correct. Also, prevents fraud & goes with the whole thing that I cannot notarized anything I think may be fraudlent.

3. I cannot notarized a document that prints out with your signature and the notary on a page with no verbage. Sometimes documents print out where the signature falls on a page by itself. I cannot notarized a page where you are not making statement. If the pages are numbered & references the previous pages there is a slim chance I may do it.

  1. You must present the whole document not just the signature page. This is for two reasons. I must make sure that you are the one suppose to sign the document & often you are stating that everything is true and correct. How can you swear that everything attached is true and correct if it is not attached?
  2. I cannot, for any reason, notarize the signature of a person without ID or is not standing before me.
  3. If I feel in anyway that the document is not right or the notary verbage is wrong I have right to refuse to notarize it. People don't realize that I can lose my license if I don't do it correctly and $5 is hardly worth risking my license for.
answered Oct 12 '13 at 09:26
Pa Notary
11 points


In Hawaii, the notary is responsible to read the document, so foreign languages are noted to find the right one when translation is an issue.

answered Jan 2 '13 at 08:56
1 point

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