Using legal documents overseas is not as straightforward as you might imagine. Even a solicitor’s signature is often not enough for certain legal documents to be accepted in other countries.
The legal professional you need to help with this is a notary public. Whether you need to use a Lasting Power of Attorney overseas, you are getting married in another country, you are buying or selling property abroad, or any other reason, your notary public can help by witnessing signatures, preparing copies of documentation and authenticating documents.
Here we explain exactly what a notary public does, when you might need one and how to get started with our specialist notary publics.
What is a notary public?
A notary public is a person qualified to confirm that a legal document is valid and can be relied upon. Authorities in foreign countries will often request notarised documents to allow you to do certain things, such as:
- Buy a property
- Get married
- Take up a job offer
A brief history of notary publics
Notary publics, or notaries, are one of the oldest types of legal professional. Notaries used to be appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury through one of the oldest English courts – the Court of Faculties.
Since 1801, notaries have been appointed and regulated under legislation called the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 created by parliament.
Today there are nearly 800 qualified notaries in England and Wales. Notaries are regulated by the Master of the Faculties via the Faculty Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Despite the name, notaries are not associated with the church.
Notaries are authorised to do all kinds of legal work (other than litigation). However, most are also dual-qualified as solicitors and carry out non-notarisation work in this capacity and fall under the regulation of the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
A notary public’s obligations to their clients are broadly similar to those of a solicitor – notaries must be insured, maintain high professional standards, and keep their clients’ money separate from their own.
What do notary publics do?
Notaries are responsible for witnessing, authenticating and preparing copies of documents for use abroad.
The process of authenticating a document is called notarisation. In most cases, the notary will attach a notarial certificate to the document in order to authenticate it and convert it into what is called a ‘notarial act’. The process involves verifying your identity and signature and witnessing the document at the time of signing. The notary must also ensure that that you understand what you are signing. Your signature will then be accompanied by the notary’s individual stamp or seal.
Once a document has been notarised, it confirms that all legal requirements have been complied with and overseas organisations and authorities can trust its authenticity.
Certification is the process of verifying that a copy of a document is a true, complete and up to date copy of the original. It is not a verification of the contents of the document itself, but does confirm that the notary has seen the original document. For example, to work overseas, you may be required to submit certified copies of your education awards.
Notaries are not the only legal professionals who can certify documents.
Legalisation by apostille
Sometimes, a document will require further ‘legalisation’ by apostille. Apostilles are used to legalise documents for use in countries that are members of the Hague Convention. The apostille is a certificate attached to your legal document by the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office, usually after authentication by the notary public.
In some cases, legalisation by a Consulate, Embassy or High Commission Office of the relevant foreign country is also required. This is referred to a ‘consular legalisation’.
Confusingly, different countries all take different approaches. Some will simply accept authentication by a notary but others will require varying levels of legalisation. Your notary public is the best person to explain exactly what will be required and will be experienced at liaising with the various authorities and organisations involved.
Notary publics are required to keep most records of notarial acts for at least 12 years, or in some cases, permanently.
If a dispute arises in relation to the event or transaction the document was used for, the notarial records can be used as evidence of the facts surrounding the matter.
When deciding how long to keep a notarial act, the notary will take into account the nature of the act, their client’s interests and other factors such as any limitation dates (the deadlines by which certain kinds of legal action can be brought).
Generally, records are confidential unless access is requested by the client themselves, the personal representative of a deceased client or an agent authorised by the client.
When do you need a notary public?
If you are a UK national or business, the following are situations in which you may require the services of a notary public:
- To verify or authenticate passports and other travel documentation
- To get married overseas or to confirm your UK divorce or civil partnership dissolution
- As part of your visa application or for other immigration purposes overseas
- To buy or sell property overseas and to apply for foreign mortgages and loans
- To use a power of attorney overseas
- To take a job overseas
- For statutory declarations
- Applications to adopt a child from overseas
- Probate and estate administration of a deceased person’s estate involving foreign property or assets
- To bring or defend legal proceedings overseas
- To set up a business overseas
- To invest in foreign businesses, property or other foreign investments
- To enter into commercial contracts overseas
Overseas nationals and businesses may also require a notary public for certain situations, including:
- Visa applications to live, work or study in the UK
- To get married or enter into a civil partnership in the UK
- To buy or sell property in the UK
- Other property related transactions
- To administer the estate of someone who owned property or assets in the UK
- To bring or defend legal proceedings in the UK
- To set up a company in the UK or invest in the UK
- To enter into commercial contracts in the UK
Do you need advice from an expert notary public?
If you need to get legal documents independently authenticated or certified, you need a notary public.
We can also offer home visits in some circumstances as well as video link calls via Skype for clients who are frequently overseas.