By Jedidiah McKeehan

At some point in your life, you’ve probably had to have an important document notarized, and there has been this section at the bottom for a “Notary Public” to confirm that you are who you say you are and they witnessed you sign this document.  Sounds weird, and a little unnecessary, so what exactly does the term Notary Public (or Notary) mean and what is their purpose?

Someone who is a Notary is actually a public official, although it is an unpaid position.  They are allowed to charge fees for providing notary services, or they can notarize documents for free.

A Notary’s primary purpose is to deter fraud in the execution of documents.  As an impartial third party, a notary will verify that someone is who they say they are when they sign a document, typically by checking someone’s identification.  Documents that might need to be notarized include wills, property deeds, powers of attorney, and court documents.  Under Tennessee state law, all of these documents are required to be notarized before they can be finalized or filed.

A Notary also has the power to administer oaths and take depositions, affidavits, and acknowledgments.

So how does one become a Notary?  Usually there is an office at the courthouse in the county in which you live where they can help you fill out forms and pay the necessary fees to become a Notary.  Becoming a Notary also requires that you obtain a surety bond in the amount of $50,000.00, which usually costs less than $200.00 to you.  The purpose of the surety bond it to provide you protection as a Notary in case someone sues you for executing something you should not have, much like an insurance policy.

For how long can someone be a Notary?  Typically, the license by the state for a Notary is good for four years, with the option to keep renewing the Notary license indefinitely with the payment of a renewal fee and the obtaining of a new surety bond.

Can a Notary in Tennessee notarize documents outside of the state of Tennessee?  Well, they can if they desire, but I would not recommend it as Tennessee is the entity which has provided Notaries their authority.

So how does someone actually notarize a document?  In order to notarize a document, all the Notary has to do is witness someone sign a document, confirm that the person signing the document is who they say they are, then sign their name to the document and then use a special seal to stamp the document. The seal is used to identify that they are indeed the one that witnessed and approved the signing of the document.

If I need something notarized, where would I go to do it?  Most banks and law offices have a Notary on their staff, and if you ask nicely, they would probably be willing to notarize a document for you for free!  They will simply want you to show them some identification before notarizing whatever it is that you have brought them.

Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including criminal, personal injury, landlord-tenant, probate, and estate planning. Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.