Witness signature vs. notary: What’s the difference?


When a business or individual is dealing with legal documents and transactions, many states require the documents to contain either a witness signature or a notary signature. Both types of signatures are crucial, legally binding guarantees verifying the signing parties’ identities. The main factor that differentiates a witness signature vs. notary signature ultimately comes down to the scope and oversight of the document.

To help you understand the difference between witness signatures and notary signatures, we’ve put together this brief explanation of signature guarantees and notarizations.

What is witness?

A witness is any neutral, third-party observer of a document signing. Both signature guarantors and notaries can serve as a witness to a document signing. 

Most legal documents require a witness of some sort to be considered valid, regardless of whether it is a signature guarantor or a notary. That being said, signature guarantors and notaries do not always have the same authority when signing a document.

Therefore, it is essential to know which type of official signature you need in any given legal situation. 

What is signature guarantee?

A signature guarantee is a form of authentication explicitly issued for financial documents produced by banks, trust companies, credit unions, brokerage firms, and other financial institutions. 

Signature guarantees are issued in the form of a unique stamp (known as a “medallion stamp”) which verifies the signatures and ensures they aren’t copied or counterfeit. An individual who provides a signature guarantee is known as a signature guarantor. 

The primary distinction between a signature guarantee and a notary signature is that a signature guarantor provides their signature on behalf of the institution (such as a bank) they represent in the transaction. This means that the institution, rather than the signature guarantor, accepts liability in the event of errors, loss, or fraud. 

On the other hand, a notary represents themselves in a transaction and accepts liability for any potential errors or identity forgery.

Signature guarantees are required by federal law in certain situations in order to authenticate the sale or transfer of securities and protect the seller from fraud and identity theft.

Signature guarantors will usually review the document, witness the signature, and apply their stamp throughout the transaction. 

Witness signature vs. notary

When you need to have a document notarized, you may notice the terms “witness signature” and “notarization” used interchangeably. This is because witness signatures and notarization signatures are two terms used to describe the same thing.

Both a witness signature and a notary signature serve to certify that a document has been signed before a commissioned notary public, per all applicable state notarization laws.

Notarized signature vs. notarized eSignature

Almost all legal documents require notarization from a notary public. Notary publics are state-appointed individuals who verify the identities of all the signers of a document.

Traditionally, individuals would have to account for extra time throughout their case to schedule time for the notaries and signers to meet in-person for a signing. While mobile notaries made this somewhat more convenient over the years, it also added to the cost of your notarization. 

Recently, Remote Online Notarization (RON) has made notarial acts of all kinds more convenient and secure than ever before. With RON, signers and notaries can appear together virtually, via a two-way audio-visual connection online in order to complete a notarization within minutes.

As more states continue to enact RON law, online notarization allows signing parties and notaries to review and eSign (electronically sign) the documents from the convenience of their home or office.  

When compared with traditional “wet ink” signatures, remote notarization and eSignatures offer greater security and protection against fraud.

Difference between signature guarantee and notarized eSignature?

The difference between a signature guarantee and a notarized eSignature is that a signature guarantee represents an institution which accepts liability for the signature authentication. This liability is usually covered by some kind of institutional insurance policy. 

Signature guarantees are exclusively required for financial documents that involve the transfer or sale of assets, stocks and bonds, and securities. These usually involve transactions that have a high risk or dollar value associated.

Individuals must complete training via a signature guarantee program to become qualified to serve as signature guarantor.   

A notary, on the other hand, simply represents themselves in a notarial transaction, and accepts any potential liability for errors or fraud. With lower risk financial transactions, a notary signature may satisfy the requirements to provide authentication.

Notarize eSignatures with PandaDoc Notary

When a business or individual needs authentication for financial transactions (especially when dealing with larger dollar amounts), they may be required to enlist the services of a signature guarantor. 

On the other hand, when you simply need to have a signature notarized, RON makes it a breeze to eSign and notarize your documents without the extra commitment that comes with scheduling traditional notarization services. 

With the convenience, security, and all-in-one flexibility that RON offers compared to the traditional notarization experience the choice is obvious. 

PandaDoc Notary provides a user-friendly and secure Remote Online Notarization platform that helps you cover all your notarization needs. Whether you need to create, edit, eSign, and notarize documents, the PandaDoc Notary platform makes it as simple and secure as possible to notarize whenever and wherever you need it. 

Request a free demo to learn more about how PandaDoc Notary can help you.