Ohio Notary 101
This page is presented by OSN as a free public service for all Ohio notaries, in the hope it will help you to better serve our citizens.
Elements and guidelines for any Ohio notarization:
1. Personal appearance is required for all signers, whether physically or over a webcam device; the latter can ONLY be handled by a notary approved by the Ohio Secretary of State to do online notarizations.
2. Although most often presented and signed at the time of notarization, a document specifying an acknowledgement in the notary certificate does not have to actually be signed in front of the notary. But, if the document has been previously signed (regardless of the date signed), the signer still MUST appear, be ID'd, and then acknowledge to the notary that the previously affixed signature is indeed his/hers. The notary will then complete the certificate with the current date of the signer's acknowledgement.
3. If the document notary certificate indicates jurat language, it MUST always be originally signed in the notary's presence, who must also administer an oath/affirmation to the signer. If presented with a document requiring a jurat that has already been signed, the signer must sign it again before the notary, and be adminstered the oath/affirmation.
4. The signer must present identification (preferably government-issued, non-expired, with photo and signature) to the satisfaction of the notary. However, ANY ID that reasonably satisfies the notary is acceptable, including expired.
5. Ensure the signer is fully aware of the document content, and that his/her signature is affixed to the document willingly, without anyoutside influence or coercion. If you have any doubt about the signer's ability to meet both of these requirements, you must refuse the notarization.
6. Check that the signer's physical description and their document signature is consistent with the ID. If the document signature is Mary Ellen Smith, then an ID showing only Mary E. Smith is insufficient; however, if the document signature is Mary E. Smith, then Mary Ellen Smith is acceptable.
7. Remember, we notarize signatures, not documents, and do so in a completely impartial manner. The notary has no interest in the document content, other than ensuring it is complete. Scan (don’t read) the document to ensure it is complete. If there are any blank spaces, the signer must either complete the spaces or line through them.
8. Complete the notary certificate on the document with acknowledgement or jurat form as required, and ensure the certificate wording is substantially compliant with Ohio law. If the wording is preprinted and not compliant, line through the incorrect language, make the appropriate correction, and initial it. Double-check spelling of the signer’s name.
9. If there is no notarial language appearing on the document, the notary must ask the signer if they wish an acknowledgement or jurat wording form, and explain the difference.
A non-attorney notary cannot suggest either format; the signer or document originator must decide. The notary then adds the specified wording form (either directly on the document or with a loose certificate), along with the state/county venue, current date, and his/her signature/seal, and completes the notarization of the signer. See #3 above, and #11 below as well.
10. The State/County venue should always be included as part of the notary certificate, even if it appears elsewhere upon the document. Importantly, note that the county location is always the county where you are when the notarization is being performed! If you are presented a document with the incorrect state or county venue preprinted on the notary certificate, just line through, initial, and add the corrected state and/or county venue.
11. Failure to adminster the oath/affirmation when required is a serious violation of Ohio notary law, and can result in severe penalties! The words "Affidavit", "Sworn to and subscribed" or "Being duly sworn" in the notary certificate are your indication it is a jurat, and that the oath/affirmation is required. Be particularly aware of this when notarizing signatures on Ohio vehicle title transfers between private individuals; the title document contains jurat language which requires both buyer and seller be administered an oath/affirmation when signing.
12. Regardless of the date on the document, ensure that your notarization is dated with the exact date that the signer appears before you; backdating or predating a notary certificate is NEVER permitted.
13. Affix the notary seal legibly near your signature, at least 1" from any page edge, and ensure it does not obscure any wording on the document or the notary certificate. If your commission expiration date is not already included on your stamp, you must write it in the certificate. The notarization is NOT complete without your seal!
14. Should there not be sufficient space on the document for any part of your notarization, use a loose acknowledgement/jurat. See the Notary TIPS below.
15. If you are maintaining a Journal of Notarial Acts, record the notarization properly. The journal is not required in Ohio, but is highly recommended, especially in an employment situation.
16. Unless an attorney, a notary public may never give advice about a document, express an opinion about its content, assist with its completion, or otherwise engage in the unauthorized practice of law. A notary cannot have any self-interest in, or realize a potential benefit from, the contents of a document upon which they are notarizing a signature.
You may notarize for family members, but we do not recommend it. Make certain that you have no self-interest in, or benefit from, the document's content. It's difficult to be impartial with family members, so also avoid any situations where your impartiality might be questioned. This is particularly important for estate, financial, medical, vehicle titles, or real estate documents of family members. Best to utilize a totally disinterested mobile notary, and remove any doubt. It can be rather a conflict of interest to put your own spouse/parent/child/sibling, etc under oath.
17. Do not overcharge!! Notaries are limited to the state-mandated $5.00 for any notarial act, plus travel fees if necessary (any travel fee should be agreed upon with the signer in advance).
These state-mandated fees are per notarial act, NOT cumulative per signature. If you have 5 signers attesting to a single document, you cannot charge 5 separate fees - it's ONE notarial act, unless there are separate notary certificates for each signature. Again, there are harsh penalties for overcharging!
18. Remember that the notary certificate on any document is your sole domain, and your sole responsibility; it is your signature on the notarization, and no one can direct you as to what information goes into the certificate.
You must ensure that your notary certificate is complete and correct, as you are solely responsible for the information contained in it. Think of your notary certificate as a "document within the document".
19. The signer should affix his/her signature exactly as shown on the signature line, or, if not preprinted, as it appears on the identification presented. You may also encounter documents where the signer is acting in a capacity such as trustee, attorney-in-fact for a power of attorney, a corporate officer, or with an AKA; since this capacity is part of the signature line, it's good practice to include it with the signature in the notary certificate.
20. The public often incorrectly assumes that notarization somehow makes a document "legal". In fact, notarization is only concerned with the document signature, and has no bearing upon its content. Simply, the signer attests to the document's content; the notary then attests that the signer has satisfied the required elements of notarization. You should ensure signers are aware of this.
21. Notaries are often requested to provide copy certifications. While this is permitted for notaries in a number of states, it is not statutorily authorized as a notarial act in Ohio. You cannot certify, or affix your stamp/seal to, a document/copy, photograph, or anything else (that does not bear a signature and a notary certificate), and attest to any information about it.
Signers from states where copy certification directly by notaries is permitted may expect the same from you, and you must tell them that it is not authorized in Ohio. However, there IS an alternative.
The person presenting the photocopy may make his/her own statement directly upon the copy (or an attached page) attesting that it is a true copy of the original document, and affixing his/her signature to the statement. The signature can then be notarized using an appropriate notary certificate, either directly upon the copy or by attaching a loose certificate. Copy Cetification By Document Custodian sheets are on our Library page.
Sometimes the notary certificate for a document is not on the same page as the signatures, or there may be no notarial language at all. In these instances, you will need to attach your own loose certificate with either acknowledgement or jurat wording. When doing so, it's good practice to always write the title of the document and the page number above your notary certificate. This identifies the certificate as part of that specific document only, and prevents the possibility of it being potentially attached to any other document.
Loose certificates should be attached by stapling the top two corners to the document signature page. You may also use an inked stamp for acknowledgement and jurat certificates.
You should prepare a supply of Ohio-compliant loose certificates in both acknowledgement/jurat formats and utilize as needed. Paper certificates and inked stamps with the appropriate wording are also commercially available. The paper certificates are also available on our Library page.
When administering a required oath/affirmation, treat it like the important ceremony it is.
The wording should substantially be "Do you solemnly swear (or "affirm") that the contents of the document are truthful and correct to the best of your knowledge, and that you signed it freely, so help you God?". The latter reference to God is omitted if the signer prefers an Affirmation - they both have equal legal standing. In either case, the raising of the right hand is not required, but helps underscore the seriousness of the ceremony.
An Ohio notary who does not administer the Oath/Affirmation when required, may lose their commission for up to three years, among other penalties.
This information is the copyrighted property of the Ohio Society of Notaries, which is solely responsible for its content. It is not intended to be legal advice. No part of this page may be reproduced or distributed without the expressed permission of OSN.