From NNA: How To Certify A Copy Of A Document
Updated 1-23-18. Notaries are often asked by signers to verify that a reproduction or photocopy of an original document is a true, complete and correct copy of the original. This is called “certifying a copy” or “copy certification.” Whether you can do so isn’t always clear-cut. Here are some important facts about copy certification all Notaries should know.
How Do I Certify A Copy Of A Document?
The basic process for copy certification is described below. Some steps may vary depending on individual state laws:
1. The document’s custodian requests a certified copy
The keeper of the original document (also called the “custodian”) appears before you and asks you to certify a copy of the original document.
2. The Notary compares the original and the copy
The custodian presents the original document and the copy so that you may confirm the copy is identical to the original. In some cases, the custodian may present the original document and you may be asked to make the copy.
3. The Notary certifies that the copy is accurate
Once you have confirmed the copy matches the original, you complete and attach to the copy a notarial certificate stating that the copy is true, accurate and complete.
Can All Notaries Certify Copies?
Not in every state. Some states (such as Michigan and New York) do not allow Notaries to certify copies of documents as an official notarial act, and some states limit the types of documents or records that Notaries may certify:
California Notaries may only certify copies of powers of attorney, or copies of the Notary’s own journal entries if requested by the Secretary of State or a court.
Florida Notaries must be present when the copy is made. The Florida Notary performing the certification must either make the photocopy or supervise the person who makes the copy. Also, Florida Notaries may not certify copies of vital records or public records if a copy can be made by the custodian of the public record.
Texas permits Notaries to certify a copy only if the original is a non-recordable document — for example, state officals have said Texas Notaries may not certify a copy of a passport since a passport is potentially recordable.
If I Can’t Certify A Copy Of A Document, Is There An Alternative?
An alternative procedure called “copy certification by document custodian” may be permissible. With this procedure, the document’s custodian or holder signs a statement attesting to the accuracy of the copy, and the Notary notarizes the custodian’s signature on the statement. The difference is that rather than directly certifying the copy, the Notary is notarizing the custodian’s signature on a statement vouching for the copy’s accuracy.
How Can I Advise A Signer?
You have to be careful not to provide unauthorized legal advice to the signer. You can mention that you may perform a copy certification by document custodian, but should not suggest or recommend that to the signer. For example, if asked to certify a copy, you may say “State law does not authorize me to certify a copy of your document. However, in this circumstance I may be able to notarize your signature on a written statement in which you certify the copy.” You should not say something like, “I can’t do this and must perform a copy certification by document custodian instead.” The important difference here is that you may mention you can perform the procedure, and let the signer choose that option if he or she wishes, but you should not tell the signer what to do — that could constitute legal advice Notaries aren’t allowed to give.
What If A Signer Asks Me To Certify A Copy Of A Vital Record, Like A Birth Or Marriage Certificate?
In some jurisdictions, such as Delaware, Florida and Pennsylvania, Notaries are not permitted to certify copies of vital records. However, it’s the signer’s responsibility — not the Notary’s — to check if copying a document violates a law or will be accepted by a receiving agency.
David Thun is an Associate Editor at the National Notary Association.