How do I get true & certified copies of documents?

Updated April 17, 2017

Acquiring true and certified copies of documents requires having the document first certified by the state, and then requesting a copy of that document from the state. Notaries can't produce certified copies of documents; they can only bear witness to the identity of the person signing a document. You can request almost any official document, especially corporate founding documents, or marriage licenses, from the state.

State Government Policies

Each state's policy on requesting copies of certified documents is slightly different. Some state governments allow you to walk in, while others require you to mail or e-mail your request in advance. Still others will have a small fee associated with requesting a copy of a certified document. The best way to determine your state's particular policy is to visit the state government's website. Each state website should have a section dedicated to the particular policies, operating hours, and addresses of the certification department.

Role of Notaries

While notaries are involved in the creation of the certification of documents, they do not in themselves possess the authority necessary to certify a document or to make a certified copy of it. Notaries are licensed by the state to officially identify the person or persons signing the official document.

Federal Government Policies

If the copy of the document you seek will be used overseas, you may contact the U.S. Department of State Authentications Office for information on how to obtain a certified copy. Other certified documents are often kept here, including powers of attorney, reference letters, articles of incorporation and trademarks.

Request Times

Always allow a considerable amount of time between when you request the certified copy of the document and when you need the document. Never postpone requesting a copy of a certified document until the last minute; bureaucracies rarely respond effectively to hard deadlines, especially when those deadlines are within the next day or two. Respect both your timetable and the timetable of the government employees; put in any requests or visits two weeks in advance of when you anticipate needing the document.

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About the Author

Julia Lai is a frequent contributor to Los Angeles-based arts and literature publications. She graduated from University of California, Los Angeles with a bachelor's degree in history and has been writing professionally since 2008.