There are several purposes for which Notary Public services are required.
- attesting to the authenticity of signature of the person who is signing,
- attesting that a photocopy is true to the original,
- attesting that a person declares the truthfulness under oath of a factual allegations contained in a sworn and signed statement.
For some intentions to be legally binding and capable of producing desired legal effect, or being relied upon, it is not sufficient that such an intention or statement be made in writing and signed. The additional formal requirement is that such an intention expressed in writing be signed before a Notary Public.
For example, a power of attorney by which a person authorizes another person to buy or sell property, in many jurisdictions has to be signed before a Notary Public. Document signed in the presence of a Notary cannot be later contested that it was given without knowledge or understanding of the consequences or that it was given under duress. Attending at the office of a Notary for the purpose of having a Notary attesting to your signature demonstrates in itself a firm intention to make a statement expressed in a document and intending that such a statement be relied upon.
The scope of matters entrusted to a Notary Public is regulated differently in different jurisdictions. In common law jurisdiction such as Canada a lawyer in good standing can also apply and be appointed as a Notary Public. In continental European tradition Notary Public is a profession distinct from that of an advocate, and furthermore, considered incompatible with a role of an advocate. Canada is a good example of such dual roles of a Notary Public. In the Province of Quebec Notary Public are civil servants who are in charge of land transfers, wills and uncontested estate proceedings who never act for a client as an advocate, but rather give a legal effect to uncontested matters and consensual transactions.
One thing however is common to all: a notary has to be present to the act of signing or the person who already sign the document has to acknowledge authenticity of his or her signature in the presence of a Notary Public. Notary has to be satisfied that the person signing a statement understands the nature and consequences of such statement and that there are no issues concerning duress and incapacity of the person who signs.