What is a Certified Copy?

In many legal and administrative processes, copies of documents are needed for reference. In circumstances where original copies are not easily produced, a certified copy can be used in its place. When certified, the copy carries the same legal authenticity and authority as the original.

However, simply creating a copy isn’t enough for it to be a certified copy. Let’s explore what makes a copy certified, what the certification process entails, and what sorts of documents can be certified.

This blog post is offered for general information purposes only. It does not constitute, and is not a substitute for, legal advice.

What is a certified copy of a document or contract?

A certified copy is a duplicated version of an original document that has been verified by an authorized individual. This verification process confirms that the copy is an accurate representation of the original, making it a legally acceptable substitute in various official and legal contexts. Certified copies are often required for situations where presenting the original document is impractical, such as during legal proceedings, government applications, or financial transactions. 

The role of a notary in copy certification

Notaries play a central role in the certification of copies. A notary public is a licensed individual authorized to administer oaths, witness signatures, and certify documents.

A notary compares the copy to the original document and then affirms its accuracy by attaching their signature, seal, or stamp. This endorsement by a notary adds a layer of credibility and authenticity to the copied document.

Notarized document vs. certified document

While both notarized documents and certified documents involve the verification of authenticity, they serve different purposes. A notarized document is one that has been signed in the presence of a notary public, who confirms the signer's identity and willingness to sign. On the other hand, a certified document is a duplicate that has been verified to match the original. Notarization focuses on the identity of the signer, while certification focuses on the accuracy of the copy itself.

Is a photocopy of a document a certified copy?

A photocopy of a document is not automatically considered a certified copy. A certified copy involves a formal process of verification carried out by an authorized individual. While a photocopy can serve as the basis for creating a certified copy, the copy itself must go through the necessary authentication steps to be considered certified. Relying solely on a photocopy without proper certification may result in the document being deemed invalid for official purposes.

What is the document certification process?

Here's a breakdown of the typical steps in the document certification process:

Obtain a copy. Start by making a photocopy or digital copy of the original document. This copy will serve as the basis for creating the certified copy.

Find a notary or other authorized person. Identify someone who has the legal authority to certify documents. This often includes notaries public, government officials, lawyers, or other designated personnel.

In-person verification. In most cases, you will need to present the original document along with the copy to the authorized party for in-person verification. They will compare the copy to the original to ensure its accuracy.

Certification statement. The authorized party will then attach a certification statement to the copy. This statement confirms that the copy is a true and accurate representation of the original document. The statement typically includes the certifier's signature, seal, or stamp, the date of certification, and their designation. It should be noted that a certified copy is not the same as a notarized document, even when the person certifying the copy is a notary.

Seal or stamp. Depending on the jurisdiction and the type of certifier, a seal or stamp may be affixed to the certified copy. This seal or stamp adds an official and recognizable mark of authenticity to the document.

Documentation. The certifier may also maintain a record of the certification in their own records. This documentation can serve as proof of the certification process and be used to verify the certified copy's legitimacy.

Use in official contexts. Once certified, the duplicate document can be used in various official and legal contexts where the original document would have been required. This can include legal proceedings, government applications, financial transactions, academic pursuits, and more.

The specific steps and requirements for document certification may vary based on the jurisdiction and the type of document being certified. Some documents may also require additional steps, such as obtaining an apostille or legalization for international use. It is recommended that you research the requirements of your specific situation or consult with the relevant authorities to ensure proper compliance with the document certification process.

What types of document copies can be certified? 

A variety of document copies can be certified, depending on the specific requirements of different situations and jurisdictions.

Types of documents that can be certified may vary by jurisdiction and the specific requirements of the situation. It is important to consult with the relevant authorities or a legal professional to determine whether a certified copy can be used in your particular circumstance and the certification requirements.

Here are some common types of document copies that can generally be certified:

  • Personal identification documents. Copies of personal identification documents such as passports or driver's licenses, can be certified. These certified copies can generally be used for identity verification purposes in government applications or legal proceedings.
  • Academic records. Transcripts, diplomas, and certificates can be certified for use in educational institutions, employment applications, or immigration processes.
  • Legal documents. Copies of legal documents such as contracts, wills, and powers of attorney can be certified to provide a valid and accepted record of the original document.
  • Financial documents. Copies of financial documents like bank statements, tax returns, and loan agreements may need to be certified for official purposes, such as loan applications or immigration processes.
  • Real estate documents. Copies of real estate documents, including deeds, titles, and mortgage agreements, can be certified for property transactions or legal proceedings.
  • Medical records. Copies of medical records, prescriptions, and other healthcare documents may be certified for medical purposes or to support insurance claims.
  • Government applications. Copies of documents submitted in government applications, such as visa applications, permits, licenses, and registrations, may require certification to ensure their authenticity.
  • Business documents. Copies of business-related documents like incorporation papers, business licenses, and financial statements can be certified for legal and regulatory purposes.
  • Family documents. Copies of family-related documents like birth certificates, marriage certificates, and adoption papers may need to be certified for immigration, legal, or genealogical purposes.
  • Court records. Copies of court records, judgments, and legal filings can be certified for use in legal proceedings or appeals.

Can I certify a document myself?

In most cases, you cannot self-certify your own documents. Creating a certified copy requires an impartial and authorized party, such as a notary public or government official, to validate the accuracy of the copy. Attempting to self-certify a document may lead to it being rejected and unusable. To ensure the acceptance of a certified copy, it's best to follow the proper channels and have it certified by an objective third party.

Certified copies with Docusign eSignature

Certified copies serve as reliable substitutes for original documents, ensuring their accuracy and authenticity in various legal and administrative contexts. Docusign eSignature offers the ability to certify copies using an electronic seal, which provides a digital certificate proving the authenticity of the document. 

Learn more about Docusign eSignature.

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