The State of California is very clear on the role of a CA notary.

As a public official, the notary has the following duties:

  • To verify the true identity of the signer of the document.
  • To establish their willingness to sign without duress or coercion.
  • To determine their understanding of the content of the document and the implications of signing it.
  • To witness their signature or to receive verbal acknowledgment that they signed it prior to coming before the notary.

The CA notary has restrictions on what they can do, as well.  The CA notary cannot certify true copies of documents, except Power of Attorney documents and their own journal entries.  The CA notary cannot certify a signers marital status or corporate capacity.  The notary can only notarize the individual, not their role in a company or trust.

These restrictions cause difficulty when a CA notary is presented with a Life Certificate / Proof of Life document from a foreign pension.  A Life Certificate is an annual letter sent out by a foreign pension requesting that the Life Certificate be completed by the notary to certify that the pensioner is alive so that they may continue to receive their pension.  Unfortunately in CA, the notary is prohibited from certifying many things including the living status of a signer.  The notary can only notarize the signature of the pensioner, so depending on the wording, a notary might not be able to notarize the document.  If the document requests that the pensioner sign it and that it be notarized, the notary may proceed, but if the document requests that the notary certify that the pensioner presented themselves on so and so date and was alive, the notary cannot do so.

If the CA notary finds the Life Certificate requests a certification that the notary cannot legally complete, the notary should recommend the pensioner seek guidance from the pension or consult the embassy/consulate of the foreign country to see if the Life Certificate can be certified there.

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