The German Notary – der Notar

der Notar / die Notarin
A type of lawyer in Germany

The German term Notar has the same Latin roots as the English word “notary,” but the two words mean two very different things.

In Germany, a Notar (m.) or Notarin (f.) is a lawyer who specializes in property law, corporate law, or family law and estate planning. Although a German Notar carries out some of the same duties as a notary public in the US, there are several key differences, particularly regarding their training and legal roles.


Buying a home in Germany can be tricky. Is the kitchen included or not? The Notar can clarify that. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

A Notar is not a notary public!
Like a notary public in the United States, a German civil-law notary may also certify the authenticity of a signature or document. However, unlike an American notary, a Notar in Germany must have a high level of legal training equal to that of any attorney or judge, and the many notarial duties of a German civil-law notary are spelled out in German law. The job of Notar is a highly respected profession that requires a degree of legal knowledge far beyond that of the Anglo-American notary public.

See “Looking to Buy? Take Your Time!” – a German Way Expat Blog post (by Ruth) that discusses buying a home and the role of a Notar.

The main difference between a Notar and a normal lawyer (Rechtsanwalt) is that a Notar must remain a neutral representative for the parties involved, whereas a lawyer takes a side in defending the interests of his or her client (Mandant). Normally, a Notar practices “private party law” and is not allowed to take part in court proceedings, but there are also Anwaltsnotare (in some states) who are both regular lawyers and civil-law notaries.

Differences from Bundesland to Bundesland
Usually, the approximately 9,000 Notare in Germany operate a private practice (known in German as a Notariat). The German state of Baden-Württemberg is the lone exception. There most notaries (Amtsnotare) are Beamte (civil servants) employed by the state of Baden-Württemberg as staff in various government agencies. There are some other differences in notarial law and practices in the various Bundesländer, so it is important to check on the law in the particular state where you are conducting business.

Signing Contracts
Most people in Germany, including expats, come into contact with a Notar in the process of buying real estate. By law, a deed or official contract must be signed and sealed (literally) in the presence of a civil-law notary. Not only that, but the notary is legally required to read the entire deed or contract out loud in the presence of the interested parties — before anything is signed. (Note: A notary may require an interpreter/translator be present if one or more of the parties does not understand German!)

Some Interesting Notar Facts

  • Based on Roman (and later French) law, the term notary comes from Latin notarius, “rapidly written” (fast scribe).
  • Only German citizens can become Notare in Germany.
  • The office of Notar (civil-law or Latin notary) is also found in Austria, parts of Switzerland, Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Spain.
  • A Notar must retire before reaching the age of 71.
  • A Notar must remain neutral and cannot violate attorney-client privilege (client secrecy).
  • In the Anglo-American world, a notary public only certifies documents. Only in French-influenced areas (Louisiana, French Canada) is there something similar to a Notar.

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