What is Notarization?
Essentially, notarization is a stamp applied to a document by a licensed person, a notary, who is trained to follow certain procedures to verify signatures. In general, to have your signature notarized, you must bring the document to the notary and sign it in the notary's presence. You must also bring a photo ID, which the notary will examine to make sure the name you are signing matches the name on the ID, and that the photo on the ID matches you. Having a document notarized therefore creates a presumption that the signature is genuine. However, forgery is still possible, for example, if the forger obtains a fake ID.
Note that the notary's stamp does not have any impact on whether the document is legally enforceable. Notarization merely serves as evidence of the signature's authenticity. Therefore, contrary to popular opinion, notarization does not "make a document legal."
When is Notarizing a Document Necessary?
Generally, notarization is required only when the document or contract says it's required. For example, professional licensing organizations often require their applications to be notarized.
When is Notarizing a Document Advisable?
Basically, it only makes sense to go to the trouble of having a signature notarized if you think there's a possibility of forgery, either real or alleged. For example, if you are entering into a contract with someone and have any doubts about their identity, you should have their signature notarized. Or, if you are entering into a contract you may need to enforce later, such as a horse sale agreement with installments, and you have any concern the person signing your contract might claim they didn't sign it, you should have their signature notarized.
Where Can I Find a Notary?
Most bank branches have at least one person on staff who is a notary. Many copy shops have at least one employee who is a notary. Real estate, mortgage brokers and law offices also often have notaries. Before you go, call ahead find out if there is a notary available, whether their services are available to the public, and whether an appointment is required. Most banks provide notary service at no charge to their customers, but other notaries generally charge $5-15 per notarization.