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Notarial Act: True Copy

Updated: Jul 28, 2022

Many states allow notaries to make certified copies of documents as long as the original document is not a publicly recorded document. Documents that people may ask to have certified by a notary include contracts, letters, settlement statements, agreements, government-issued identification cards, foreign or U.S. passports. This list is certainly not all-inclusive.

So, what is a true copy of a document?

A true copy is an exact copy of a document with no alterations or changes.

What are the steps for a notary public to certify a copy of a document?

Step 1, The document’s custodian requests a certified copy.

The keeper of the original document (also called the “custodian”) appears before a notary and asks the notary to certify a copy of the original document.

Step 2, The notary compares the original and the copy.

The notary will review the document to make sure that it is original. Some states require their notaries to either make or witness the making of any photocopy of an original document, in order to properly attest that the copy is “true.” Some states allow the notary to compare a previously made photocopy with the original document. The Notaries cannot make certified copies of copies.

Step 3, The notary certifies that the copy is accurate.

Once the notary has confirmed the copy matches the original, the notary will complete and attach to the copy a notarial certificate stating that the copy is true, accurate, and complete.

Notaries cannot certify copies of all kinds of documents.

Notaries are not authorized to make copies or certify copies of vital records.

The reason is that a copy certification requires the Notary to certify that the copy is a true and accurate reproduction of the original document. However, original vital records documents are kept by the government agency that issues them. Only that agency is authorized to issue certified copies of the vital record.

A vital record is a government document containing information about a person’s important life events. Examples of vital records include birth certificates, death certificates, and marriage certificates. In the United States, vital records are typically issued and maintained at the county or state level by offices such as a county clerk or recorder’s office, registrar’s office, or vital records office.

In HANDBOOK FOR VIRGINIA NOTARIES PUBLIC, it says: Virginia notaries are not authorized to certify true copies of birth, death, or marriage certificates. Only the Division of Vital Records/Statistics may perform such a certification.

Click here to learn the Notary Public Handbook of 50 States and DC.

Not all states allow notaries to certify copies.

However, Notaries aren't allowed to certify copies 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.

In Michigan, a notary public cannot certify a copy of a document. Michigan notaries cannot make a statement on a copy of a document that it is a true copy of the original document. The notary can only acknowledge the signature of the person making the original or true copy statement on the document. In Michigan, only the issuer or holder (person named on the document) can certify the authenticity of a document and that it is an original or true copy.

For example, an official from the school that issued a diploma can certify that a duplicate of the diploma is a true copy of the original diploma. Or, the person named on the diploma can make a true copy statement on a copy of his or her original diploma.

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. The commission is limited.

Georgia allows copy certification ​of a U.S. passport but requires the passport holder to provide an affidavit. Mississippi prohibits Notaries from certifying copies of driver’s licenses or passports unless the Notary is an employee of the government agency that issued the ID. And some states such as Illinois do not permit Notaries to certify copies of any documents.

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