What is an Acknowledgment or Oath or Affirmation?

Whether you are thinking about becoming a notary, or are like me, waiting for your application to be approved, either way a novice (I received my notary commission by the end of Feb. 2012), you might be wondering about some of the terms for the documents notaries use, what they mean, look like, how to do things, etc. I’ll address one (or two) basic duty per post.

If you didn’t know, when notaries need to notarize a signature, they don’t only verify identity and witness a signature to then stamp their seal and sign the document.

To notarize signatures in FL (probably the same requirements in most or all states), notaries must perform one of the two notarial acts: either take an acknowledgment from or administer an oath (or affirmation) to the document signer. They have different purposes and notaries must understand the difference in order to notarize signatures properly.

  • Take an Acknowledgment: the signer must be physically present (I discussed the physical presence requirement on a previous post) before a notary and state that he or she has signed (in front of the notary) the document freely. Notaries must ensure that signers understand the content of the document and have not been forced into signing. If there is any doubt about the signer’s willingness to execute the document or his or her understanding of the contents of the document, the notary should refuse to notarize and perhaps refer the person to an attorney for legal advice. A question notaries might want to ask signers in order to assess their willingness and understanding of what he or she will be signing or has signed, “Do you acknowledge that this is your signature and that you are executing this document of your own free will?” If yes, the notary should then complete a certificate declaring that the execution of the document was acknowledged by the signer. Documents that typically require an acknowledgment are deeds, mortgages, contracts, and powers of attorney (except those pertaining to motor vehicle titles)

  • Oath or Affirmation (Jurat): this notarial act is required when signers need to make sworn statements about certain facts. Again, signers must be physically present before a notary to swear (or affirm) that the information on the document is true and to sign the document. A false oath or affirmation is perjury. Notaries may used it in affidavits, depositions, applications.  The oath or affirmation is administered in the beginning by a verbal exchange between the notary and the signer in which the latter indicates that he or she is taking an oath. Notaries may ask, “Do you swear (or affirm) that the information contained in this document is true?” If the answer is yes, then the notary completes the notarial certificate that shows an oath or affirmation was taken.
How to perform a Jurat? I found this information from the state of NH:

1. The signer personally appears before the Notary.
2. The Notary scans the document to make sure there are no blank spaces.
3. The Notary positively identifies the signer.
4. The Notary administers an oath or affirmation to the signer:
Oath: “Do you solemnly swear that the statements in this document are true, so help you God?”
Affirmation: “Do you affirm that the statements in this document are true?”
5. The Notary completes certificate wording for a jurat and affixes the official signature and seal.

How do notaries know which of the two notarial acts to perform?

Before notarizing, notaries should look if a document has a prepared notarial certificate with words such as “acknowledged ” or “sworn to” indicating which notarial act is to be performed. If there is none, the signer must tell the notary which act he or she wants. Notaries who are not also attorneys  are not authorized to advise signers which notarial act the document requires as well as about the contents of the the document.

Info on Notarial Certificates from the FL Gov.:

Check the Notarial Certificate.
First, look at the venue: State of Florida, County of _____. This language should reflect the location where the document is being notarized. If it is incorrect, change the language and initial the change BEFORE notarizing.
Second, check the date. If an incorrect date has been filled in, strike through that date, write in the correct date, and initial the change BEFORE notarizing. The correct date is the actual date of notarization.
Third, look for the key words, “sworn” or “acknowledged”, to determine if you are to administer an oath or take an acknowledgment. If the document does not have a notarial certificate, the signer must tell you which notarial act the document requires. At the signer’s direction, you may write or
type the appropriate certificate on the document.

For more info on FL Notarizations, Notarial Certificates, “Loose Certificates,” Corrections, etc. , see Performing Notarial Acts p.28-31

Sources:

FL Governor’s Reference Manual for Notaries – Duties of a Notary Public

FL Notarizing: Step by Step p. 28

Samples of Notarial Documents

by Alessandra Gomes

On My Way FL Notary S.A.

http://www.onmywayflnsa.com

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