The legal systems of the different states of the United States of America often require documents to be notarised – or to use the US spelling, notarized. This typically includes documents used for the transfer or conveyance of property, documentation related to mortgages and finance, letters of authorisation or consent, and many others. The categories of document that may require notarization range from deeds (such as ‘quitclaim deeds’ or ‘warranty deeds’), affidavits (i.e. declarations sworn under oath), powers of attorney and a variety of other legal instruments. For many of these documents, it is the law of a particular state that imposes the notarization requirement but there are also documents requiring notarization under federal laws – an example of this would be a statement of consent for the issuance of a US passport to a minor under age 16. Though we are not US notaries, we frequently notarize documents for the USA without problems.
The legislation of the different US states determines how notaries are appointed and what their duties are in that particular state. These can vary from state to state. For instance, notaries in states such as Florida or Nevada can solemnise marriages, while in many other states this is not included within the authorised duties of a notary. The website of The American Society of Notaries provides detailed information about the duties and qualifications of public notaries in the different US states.
Many states of the USA have laws that establish the specific wording that the notaries of that state must use when certifying certain documents, such as deeds or affidavits. The two typical examples of notarial certificates for which a prescribed form of words are provided are ‘acknowledgment certificates’ and ‘jurats’. An acknowledgment certificate is usually a paragraph typed at the end of a document, in which the notary public confirms that the person signing the document has been identified by the notary, has confirmed to the notary that he/she understands the document and wants it to have legal effect, and finally acknowledges that the signature on the document is truly his or hers. A jurat is a similar certification but used for affidavits, which must be signed under oath.
It is a relatively common situation that a US citizen is temporarily or permanently based outside the United States but needs to send a notarized document to be used back home. This could happen, for instance, to a property owner from California who is currently living in London, England, and needs to sign a power of attorney so that lawyers in California can take care of the sale. Nationals from other countries but with close connections to America can also see themselves in similar situations. For instance, a British law student planning to sit the New York State Bar Exam will be asked to send a ‘notarized’ application form.
In those situations, the laws of the different states allow for the notarization to take place outside the United States, by taking the document to either the US embassy or a local notary public. In England and Wales in particular, public notaries tend to be familiar with the notarization of documents for the United States, as there are many US citizens living in London and across England and Wales, and there is usually a few weeks’ waiting period for a notary appointment at the US embassy in London.
Documents notarized by a notary public in the UK are perfectly acceptable in the United States. For some states, however, it is necessary to complete an additional step after the notarization. This step is known as ‘legalisation’ and involves submitting the document to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office so that they can attach an ‘apostille’. An apostille is a certificate confirming the signature and seal of the notary. A document notarized in the UK and bearing an apostille must be accepted in the United States as if it had been notarized there; this is because both the UK and the US are parties to the 1961 Hague Convention abolishing the requirement of legalisation for foreign public documents. Notaries in England and Wales can normally arrange the apostille as well as the notarization, and some notaries based in London are able to arrange this for you on a same-day or next-day basis.
The website of the US Embassy in London itself summarises the process of notarization and legalisation using a UK notary. Although the embassy recommends obtaining always an apostille, many US states have passed laws that means apostilles are not required and the signature and seal of a UK notary public will be accepted directly. This is the case, for instance, in Florida, Colorado, Arizona or Nevada, whereas other states such as California, Arkansas or North Carolina will normally expect an apostille to be attached to certain documents. It is always advisable to double-check with the receiving authority whether an apostille is required for a particular document.
If you have any questions, our notaries can offer advice about the notarization process for US documents and about the apostille. You can learn more about our services here.