” A client walked into my office with a picture of a birth certificate and asked that it be certified as a copy. Can I actually do this?”

Traveling back to the basics, in order to notarize properly, a document must contain text that is signed by the document signer as well as notarial wording. A picture of a document is not an actual document so a Notary cannot notarize a picture of anything. In this scenario, it’s best to have the client contact the receiving agency and ask what they are willing to accept. Typically, a certified copy of a birth certificate is available through the county recorder’s office along with death and marriage certificates. Keep in mind that people from other countries might have their original birth certificates but the same rules still apply. So what options are available to them?

There is a document called “Certified Copy of Document Custodian” which may be useful in this situation. The document states that the copy is a true and correct copy of the original document in their possession. It’s much like the Power of Attorney certified copy, only this time it is signed by the document signer, not the Notary. The Notary is left to simply execute the Jurat notarization.

Once a Notary determines that a document is acceptable for notarization, the signer is responsible for telling the Notary what type of notarial wording is required. It’s beneficial to have the notarial wording on the document to start with, but if it’s not there, the signer must seek this information from the receiving agency, issuing agency or an attorney. It is not the Notaries responsibility to determine what type of notarization is required for their client’s document, unless they are an expert in the area the document is associated with. A real estate agent knows a Trust Deed will be accompanied by an Acknowledgment, for example. To suggest a specific type of Notarization without knowledge of that industry opens up liability for the Notary, if they are incorrect.

In California, the only documents that can be copy certified by a Notary are the Power of Attorney and a Notary’s journal entry. In these two cases, the Notary is certifying that the document is true and correct by signing a statement to that effect and then notarizing their own signature. Below is an example of the Power of Attorney certification wording:

State of California
County of Los Angeles

I, Jackie Sanders, Notary Public, certify that on Sept. 2, 2016, I examined the original power of attorney and the copy of the power of attorney. I further certify that the copy is a true and correct copy of the original power of attorney.

Jackie Sanders

To recap, a signer may make a statement that a copy of a document is a true copy of an original document in their possession and a Notary then executes a Jurat for their client. A certified copy by a Notary in California is only allowed with a Power of Attorney and their journal entry.