What is a Notary Public?
As public officials who are appointed and commissioned by the Secretary of the Commonwealth, notaries public are held to the highest standards of integrity, honesty and trust. Notaries public are also playing an ever more vital role in commerce and are on the front lines of deterring document fraud, particularly in light of heightened security concerns and the increased threat of identity theft. In Pennsylvania, a notary public has the power to administer oaths and affirmations, certify copies and take depositions, affidavits, verifications, upon oath or affirmation and acknowledgments. In addition, notaries public are authorized to issue protests. Notaries public commissioned in Pennsylvania are authorized to notarize documents in any county in Pennsylvania.
The office of notary public is an important position of public trust that has experienced many changes since its inception in ancient Rome. At that time, notaries public served as public scribes, writing for those who did not know how and acting as document authenticators. Pennsylvania first enacted a law governing notaries public in 1791. Under that first law, the Governor had the authority to appoint six notaries public for Philadelphia and three for the remaining counties.
The authority to appoint notaries public was transferred from the Governor to the Secretary of the Commonwealth by the Notary Public Law of 1953. The 1953 statute also streamlined the procedure for being appointed a notary public in the state.
On December 9, 2002, Pennsylvania enacted the first major amendments to the Notary Public Law of 1953 in some 50 years through Act 151 of 2002, effective July 1, 2003, 57 P.S. § 147 et seq.
Among many amendments designed to modernize the Notary Public Law of 1953, Act 151 contains a provision requiring all notary public applicants for both an initial appointment and reappointment to submit proof of having completed three hours of mandatory preapproved notary public education within six months immediately preceding application.
The amended Notary Public Law also has expanded notary public commission eligibility to include nonresidents who are employed (i.e., maintain an actual physical business address in the state rather than merely a Post Office Box) in the Commonwealth. Act 151 provides that any nonresident notary public in Pennsylvania irrevocably appoints the Secretary of the Commonwealth as the person's agent upon whom may be served any summons, subpoena, order or other process. The Department of State will retain the served documents in a file for review by the nonresident notary public and promptly forward the served documents to the Pennsylvania business address on file upon request.