Many people believe that they can write (or type) their final wishes on any sheet of paper and then have that paper notarized to ensure that they have a legally valid will. This belief is simply incorrect. Notarization does not affect the validity of any will and does not provide any assurance of legality. In fact, notarization does not offer any additional assurance of legality to a will that has been properly drafted by an attorney.
Notarization provides an official verification of the authenticity of a signature applied to a document. A notary public is neither required, nor permitted to review the contents of a document and provide an opinion of its legal validity.
The notary’s duty is limited to verifying the signature written on the document. In fulfillment of this duty, the notary public either witnesses the actual act of placing the signature on the document or accepts the signer’s statement that the signature already present on a document is personal and authentic. If satisfied that signer’s identity is also the same as that of the person known by the written name, the notary places his or her official seal and personal signature to the document as conclusive evidence of authenticity. (A notary may also accept a third party’s statement that the signature on a document is authentic, but this is not used in practice as frequently as the previously mentioned methods.)
While it is true that specific legal documents are not effective without notarization, merely having a document notarized does not provide any guarantee that the document contains any legally valid instructions.
For instance, real estate deeds are the most commonly recognized documents that must be notarized in order to become legally effective. As deeds are so familiar, they will be used to illustrate this difference. However, the basic principles shown below are not limited to deeds.
Example: Legally Ineffective Without Notarization
Through their attorney, George and Louise make a deed transferring their lot located at East Side Estates to their son Lionel. The deed has been properly signed by George and Louise, correctly describes their property, and contains every other formality required by the state where the property is located. Although this deed satisfies all other requirements for legal validity, without being properly notarized the deed cannot transfer ownership. Even if Lionel has already paid for the property, the deed cannot be recorded without notarization and ownership will remain with George and Louise.