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Notaries: WHO are they and WHAT can they do?

Updated: Aug 2, 2022

What is a Notary Public?

Black’s Law Dictionary (a legal dictionary used in the legal community) defines a Notary Public as: “A person authorized by a state to administer oaths, certify documents, attest to the authenticity of signatures, and perform official acts in commercial matters, such as protesting negotiable instruments.” It further describes a notary as “an official known in nearly all civilized countries. The office is of ancient origin. In Rome, during the republic, it existed, the title being tabelliones forenses, or personae publicae; and there are records of the appointment of notaries by the Frankish kings and the Popes as early as the ninth century. They were chiefly employed in drawing up legal documents; as scribes or scriveners they took minutes and made short drafts of writing, either of a public or a private nature. In modern times their more characteristic duty is to attest the genuineness of any deeds or writings in order to render the same available as evidence of the facts therein contained.”

If I didn’t lose you with THAT description, in short (and specifically for Louisiana) let me explain it this way: a Notary Public is an individual who is commissioned through the state by appointment of the governor, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, upon the meeting of the qualifications for office.[i] The general powers of a Louisiana Notary Public include: making inventories, appraisements, partitions, receive wills, make protests, matrimonial contracts, conveyances, and generally, all contracts and instruments of writing, to receive acknowledgements of instruments under private signature, make affidavits of correction, affix the seals upon the effects of deceased persons, and authentic acts[ii]. OK, maybe not as short. 😊 Thanks for reading this far. If this was interesting, please keep reading.

The notary in Louisiana, who is not licensed to practice law, may not give legal advice per se, but is authorized under the statutes defining the practice of law[iii] to perform any act necessary or incidental to the exercise of the powers and functions of the office of notary public. It must be noted that there ARE notaries who are licensed to practice law, they would present themselves as an attorney/lawyer. There ARE also attorneys/lawyers who are NOT notaries. A notary is a member of the legal profession commissioned by the state with public authority and faith. As a matter of public policy and executive power imposed on him the duty to provide the proper form, authenticity, and solemnity for the facts, transactions, and documents of all interested parties and to give them (the document) the absolute assurance that what has been done for them (the notary) had been done in accordance with the law.[iv] The duty of the notary to act as a neutral advisor does not preclude him from having his own clientele, nor from the client referring to him as “my notary”. I will reiterate for clarity, that a Louisiana Notary Public who is not licensed to practice law may not provide legal advice (please read my blog on legal advice vs. legal information – coming soon – if it has not already posted).

A Louisiana Notary Public who is not licensed to practice law does not act on behalf of either party…he/she is charged with protecting and guarding the interests of both parties and that of the record. As such, a notary cannot take sides where a dispute arises and cannot provide legal representation/counsel, whether in or out of a court of law or in the litigation. Therefore, if the involved/interested parties are unable to reach an agreement and litigation ensues, such representation/counsel would fall under the purview of the attorney/lawyer.

Having said all this, using a Louisiana Notary Public can be an extremely convenient and cost-effective alternative for the preparation, execution and authentication of most legal documents. The Louisiana Notary Public has broad powers usually reserved for attorneys in other states. A Louisiana Notary can prepare and execute affidavits, acknowledgments, and authentic acts; such document may include: any act affecting both movable and immovable property (i.e., bills of sale, title transfers, donations, exchanges, mortgages, quit claims); Acts of Adoption; Procurations by Mandate; Powers of Attorney/Mandates; Small Successions; Wills; Trusts; Acknowledgments; Incorporations; Limited Liability Companies; Partnership Agreements; Matrimonial Agreements; Contracts; generally, any instrument of writing.

[i] Revised Statute §35:191. [ii] In conformity with the provisions of Civil Code Article 1833. [iii] Revised Statute §37:212. [iv] This is not to discount the integrity and expertise of attorneys/lawyers nor the office of same, but simply to express the additional step to qualify as a Louisiana Notary Public.

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