A question frequently asked by both new and experienced notaries is, “Can I notarize this document?” Notaries are sometimes unsure how to proceed when presented with an unfamiliar type of document or with an unusual request from a customer. In general, any written document can be notarized if the general requirements for notarization are met, including completing a notarial certificate, inspecting identification, etc.
It is important to note that notarization primarily concerns the signature rather than the contents of a document. When you hear the phrase “notarize a signature,” it usually refers to an acknowledgment or oath. Acknowledgments are typically required on deeds, mortgages, powers of attorney, and general instruments of writing, while oaths are usually reserved for affidavits, applications, court pleadings, and other sworn written statements.
The two most basic acts, which are authorized duties of notaries in all states, are taking acknowledgments and administering oaths. An acknowledgment is simply a declaration by someone who signed a document voluntarily. An oath is a promise to a supreme being. Making a false statement under oath is a criminal offense called perjury. The notary’s only concerns in these common acts are the signer's willingness to sign and/or the signer's assertion that a document’s contents are correct. A notary is never responsible for a document’s contents. For this reason, as long as the signer appears before the notary in person, presents proper identification, and acknowledges or takes the necessary oath, there is generally no reason a notary cannot proceed with notarizing the signature.
In fact, anything written on paper can be notarized. Again, the document’s contents are of no concern to the notary. The document could even be a deed for land on Mars, a title for a spaceship, or a prenuptial agreement written on a napkin. The notary is concerned with the signature, not the document.
Again, there is no special distinction when it comes to government documents. They may be notarized like any other paper. Car titles, for example, require notarization in some states and not others. In those states that require notarization, the title will have a notarial certificate and a space for the notary’s signature and seal; in other states, if notarization isn’t required but simply requested by the customer, a loose certificate should be attached after having the customer select whether an oath or acknowledgment is requested.
A few circumstances fall into a "gray area." First, notaries are generally permitted to refuse to perform a notarization for a transaction they suspect to be fraudulent. Notaries can also decline to notarize documents written in a foreign language (although there generally is no prohibition against notarizing documents written in another language, provided the notarial certificate is in English). Barring these and other circumstances permitted by state law, a notary can notarize any instrument of writing presented to them if it contains a proper notarial certificate.
As always, consult your state’s laws or commissioning authority for the most accurate information pertaining to your state.