The Apostille.

You’ve probably seen this word floating around while performing your notarial duties. It was definitely included in your training as a notary. But, unless you’re frequently working with documents traveling outside the country, you might not be exactly sure what it is.

According to California’s Secretary of State, an Apostille is a certificate that authenticates the signature of a public official on a document for use in another country. It certifies the authenticity of public official’s signature and his official capacity. When appropriate, it also certifies the identity of the seal which the document bears, e.g. a notary public seal. Basically, it authenticates notaries themselves. 

So, why do we need them? Sometimes, the documents we notarize travel after our services are complete. People everywhere rely on notarizations to help ensure truthfulness and reliability in a signature. However, the laws surrounding the duties of a notary public vary widely not only state by state, but country by country. In Louisiana, the way the office of a notary was established was based on the system used in France, as that part of the country was, for a long time, under French control. As a result, notaries in Louisiana notaries are appointed for life by the Governor. They can perform civil law notarial acts and, though not allowed to give legal advice, they can give “notarial advice” regarding the type of documents a person needs and can even prepare certain documents, as allowed by the state. 

Given the extreme differences that exist within our country, imagine the differences between each country. Notary publics are, for some, such as the citizens of Mexico,  specialized lawyers who must undergo rigorous training in order to be given their title.

So, how do officials across the world ensure that a notarization is legitimate? The answer is simple– an apostille. They apply to documents traveling between countries involved in the Hague Apostille Convention of 1961. You can find a complete list of these countries here: 

Some countries have not signed and are not included.

Now, we know what an apostille is. How does a signer go about getting one? You may also be wondering– if an apostille is meant to verify a notary’s office, how could a notary truthfully fill one out? Surely, the notary can’t authenticate herself or himself? You’re right. The notary does not prepare the apostille. Usually, it is up to the signer to request authentication from the Secretary of State after the document has been notarized. The Secretary of State’s website lays out the process here:  

Now, we’ve run into another snag. How far can a notary go in assisting a signer if they need an apostille? Some notaries acquire the apostille for the signer as a side business, but only if requested and not in their capacity as a notary. After all, telling a signer what to do constitutes the practice of law, which a notary public in California may not do unless she or he is also an attorney. Ultimately, the notary can not advise whether or not a document needs an Apostille. The signer will have to find out on their own. If asked, the notary can explain the process in obtaining an Apostille and direct the signer to speak with an attorney or contact the entity requesting the notarization.