What is a Copy Certification by Document Custodian?

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A Copy Certification by Document Custodian

is an easy way for someone to self-certify that a copy of a document in their possession is an unaltered copy of the original document.

Let me give you an example. The United States Department of Immigration often requires applicants to submit a “certified” copy of their passport with the application. They will not accept a plain copy without certification but the instructions on the application tell the applicant to take the original passport along with the copy of the passport to a notary who will compare the copy to the original and then “certify” that it is a true and correct copy.

Notaries in California do not “certify” documents but people can “certify” their own documents.

Notaries in the United States notarize signatures, not documents and in general, notaries are not permitted to “Certify” that a copy of a document is a true and correct copy. Instead, the one who is in possession of the original document may certify that the copy is a true and correct copy by signing an affidavit (statement of fact) that the copy is a true and correct copy. Essentially, the person is self-certifying a copy of their own document.

You may be thinking that that procedure is a bit odd. What would be the purpose of allowing someone to create their own certification? That is because we have left out an important step here up to now.

The person who is “certifying” the copy (signing the affidavit) must present the affidavit along with the copy of the document to a notary. The notary WILL NOT be responsible to verify that the copy is a true and correct copy because it is not the notary who is making the certification. Of course, a notary is required to peruse the documents just to confirm that there are no obvious or glaring differences between the two and if the notary notices that there are obvious differences, the notary must refuse to notarize that affidavit. That is because a notary is not permitted to notarize anything that the notary knows contains false information or derived through false pretenses. So while a notary is not responsible to carefully compare the copy with the original, if it is clearly obvious to the notary that the copy is not a true and correct copy, the notary may not notarize. Assuming that there are no obvious variances between the original and the copy, the notary may proceed do notarize the signature on that affidavit and this procedure is called a Copy Certification by Document Custodian because it is the custodian (the one who has possession) of the original document who will self-certify that the copy is a true and correct copy by signing this affidavit.

There is no specific wording usually required for the affidavit and that wording can be quite simple. For example, the affidavit may be a single statement such as the following:

“I declare that this is a true, exact and unaltered photocopy of my original passport.”

Signature of Document Custodian

The notary will then notarize the signature of the document custodian.

In order to notarize the signature on this affidavit, the notary will either complete a Jurat or an Acknowledgment.  Since the document custodian is permitted to write out their own affidavit,  a notary will not have instructions based on the hand-written affidavit as to which notary act to complete.  In this case, the Document Custodian will need to tell the notary which one to do. The signer may not have any idea which one to use, so the signer will need to find out from someone other than the notary which notary act the notary should use.

However, sometimes the signer will not have this affidavit with them and will prefer to use a pre-authored form instead. They may be able to purchase this form online or at an office supply store, but many notaries, especially mobile notaries or notaries providing notarial services to the public in a store-front, will have a library of forms available for selection should a client ask for one.  A non-attorney may never select the proper form to use but if a client asks the notary for a form, and if the notary has that form, the notary is not the one selecting the form, rather providing the form that was requested by the client.  Since a non-attorney notary is not permitted to select which notary act to perform, a notary who has these forms will ask the signer which version they would like…one with an Acknowledgment preprinted on the form or the one with a Jurat. The signer must select the version and then the notary can complete the notary act just like any other notarial procedure.

The most common form for a  “COPY CERTIFICATION BY DOCUMENT CUSTODIAN”  contains a Jurat but sometimes the version with an acknowledgment is requested.

A Copy Certification by Document Custodian MAY NOT BE USED
for certifying copies of vital statistic records such as Birth Certificates, Marriage Certificates or Death Certificates. Anyone needing a Certified Copy of a vital record must obtain one at the County Clerk’s office, a State Registry or other entity that has the authority to certify copies of these types of documents.