Frequently Asked Questions
- What do I have to do to become a notary?
According to state law, you must be either a registered voter in the state of Rhode Island or a member of the Rhode Island Bar Association. In addition, you must complete and remit for filing the Notary Application Form. The fee is $80 for a four-year commission. Mail or bring the application and check, made payable to the RI Secretary of State, to our office at 148 W. River St., Providence, RI 02904.
- What is the proper way to notarize a document?
To properly notarize a document you must fill in all spaces in a preprinted acknowledgement; sign your name as you did on your application; and print your name, the words “Notary Public,” and your expiration date. If the document has no preprinted acknowledgement, one must be provided. Sample forms are provided in the notary handbook giving the date and location of the signing and the name of the person whose signature you are notarizing. Sign your name as you did on your application, print your name and the words “Notary Public,” and list your expiration date.
- When will I get my seal?
The state does not provide seals or stamps. You will find vendors of seals listed in the yellow pages under “seals.” Stationery and business supply houses may also be able to order one for you.
- What is the difference between a seal and a stamp?
A seal is a metal devise that impresses the paper with your name, “Notary Public,” and “Rhode Island.” A stamp may have additional information such as your expiration date, “signed before me” or other useful phrases.
- If I move to another state, can I still be a notary?
Your notary commission lasts for 4 years. Your power to act as a notary is only in force when you are actually in Rhode Island. You will not be able to renew your commission if you are not a qualified elector in the State of Rhode Island or a member of the Rhode Island Bar Association.
- Can a Justice of the Peace perform marriages in Rhode Island?
No, a Justice of the Peace commissioned under the provisions of Title 42, Chapter 30 of the Rhode Island General Laws, as amended (RIGL) does NOT have the power to marry people in Rhode Island. Only the officials listed in RIGL 15-3-5 are empowered to join persons in marriage.
- Does a notary have to use a seal?
Although Rhode Island does not require notaries to put seals on documents, it is generally prudent for a Notary Public to do so. Some other states require notaries to use a seal, as do certain corporations or government agencies. Documents to be used in foreign countries always need to be sealed. Since a Notary Public will not always know how or where an instrument he or she is notarizing is to be used, it is always safer to use a seal.
- Can I notarize my spouse’s signature?
It is inadvisable for a Notary Public to notarize a document for a close relative. The purpose of a notary is to be an independent witness to the signing of a document. If there were to be a dispute involving the document, the validity of the notarization could be called into question. Additionally, you may not notarize your own signature.
- Can I notarize the signature of someone from out of state?
Yes. So long as the signing takes place within the boundaries of Rhode Island, it does not matter where the principal signing the document is from.
- Can I notarize a copy of a passport or a driver’s license?
Yes. If you make the copy, you must include a signed and dated acknowledgement certifying that the attached document is a true, exact, complete and unaltered copy that you made of the passport or driver’s license presented to you by the owner of the document. If you are presented with a copy, the owner must sign a sworn and dated statement that it is a true, exact, complete and unaltered copy. You would then notarize their signature.
- Can I certify a copy of a birth, death or marriage certificate?
No, such public records are available as a certified copy from the public offices that issued them originally.
- Can I notarize a fax or a photocopy?
A photocopy or fax may be notarized only if it bears an original signature. That is, the copy must have been signed with an ink pen. A photocopied or faxed signature may never be notarized.
- Do I have to keep a journal of what I notarize?
Rhode Island does not at this time require that a journal be kept. However it is a good and recommended practice to keep one. This will benefit the notary Public if he or she is ever required to testify as to how a particular instrument was notarized.
- I’ve been asked to sign a document in a foreign language. When I sign my name, should I translate “Notary Public” into the language of the document?
NO. Always use the English words “Notary Public” in your notarization. When translated, the words can have a different meaning implying different powers than an American notary public has.
- Can I notarize a will?
Unless you are working under the instruction of an attorney, or have had extensive estate planning experience, you should be cautious in notarizing a will. A will can be a complex document and an improperly prepared or notarized one can have far-reaching consequences. You should never give legal advice about a will whether or not you have had estate planning experience unless you are an attorney.
- When it is time to renew my commission, will you send me a reminder?
Yes, we will send a renewal application to the address we have on file for you. Please be aware that if your address changes you must notify our office in writing as soon as possible, or in at least 2 months prior to your expiration date. You can accomplish this notification by completing and submitting to our office the Notary Change of Address Form found here
- What do I do if I need to resign my commission or if I move out of state?
In the event you move out of state or become disabled necessitating that you resign your commission, it is best to notify the Notary Section of such an occurrence. You should also deface or destroy any seal or stamp you have so that it may not be fraudulently used. If you have kept a journal, you should keep it for seven years after your last entry.
- I changed my name since I received my commission. What do I do?
You must complete a Notary Public Change of Name Form and mail it to us. We will update our files and send you a revised commission with your new name. There is no charge for this service.
- Are there any instances when I should refuse to notarize a document?
You should not notarize a document for someone who appears confused about what he or she is signing or appears to be coerced into signing. If the person cannot show identification, you should not notarize a document for them. However, you are considered a public servant and should not discriminate on any basis.
- I live out of state but work in Rhode Island. My employer wants me to notarize documents. How do I become a notary?
Unfortunately at this time the Rhode Island General Laws, as amended do not provide for non-resident registrations unless you are a member of the Rhode Island Bar Association. Otherwise each Notary Public applicant must be a qualified elector in the State of Rhode Island.
- I have lost my seal. What do I do?
Please notify our office in writing if your seal has been lost or stolen. The written notice will be attached to your file in the event there is ever a question regarding the use of your seal during the period for which it has been misplaced. If and when your seal has been recovered or replaced, it is imperative once again to notify our office in writing. The notice of recovery or replacement will also be attached to your file in the event future reference is ever needed.