What Is an Affidavit?
Affidavits are one of the most widely used types of legal documents. But the purpose and requirements of these documents are not always as widely known. Before you sign an affidavit, it is important to understand what it is and the implications of signing.
What is an affidavit?
An affidavit is a written statement in which the signer or "affiant" verifies that the document is true. They differ from sworn oaths only in that the relevant parties must sign them instead of swearing them out loud. The person swearing to this written statement is called the affiant.
Representatives use these legally binding documents in various legal proceedings, such as bankruptcies, writing a will, and divorce proceedings. They are often more convenient than swearing an oath because they do not require the person attesting the information to be present. They are also a more accurate way to keep records of vital details for court cases and other proceedings.
What does an affidavit consist of?
Affidavits include a sworn statement made by the affiant and witnessed by a notary or officer of the law. This statement attests that the facts included in the affidavit are true to the best of the affiant's personal knowledge. Legal proceedings use these documents to verify evidence for inclusion in trials and other functions.
What are the requirements for an affidavit?
Because an affidavit is a sworn legal document, it must meet legal requirements such as:
Affiants must make the oath featured in their affidavit voluntarily. Their legal representation must prove that no one has pressured the affiant into signing. If a court discovers that the affiant signed unwillingly, they will likely consider the oath inadmissible as evidence.
An affidavit must be signed by the person making the statement to be considered legally binding. In many cases, the affiant must also sign the document in front of a witness. That witness is often the notary public, but they could be anyone willing to swear the signature is authentic.
Notarization is the most secure way for a court to authenticate an affidavit’s authenticity. Whether or not a notary public must notarize these documents varies by jurisdiction.
Affiants can notarize their affidavits online through remote online notarization. This provides the highest level of security because of the digital “paper trail” this process creates.
Affiants need to learn what their jurisdiction and court require before submitting their documents. For example, affidavits that have been notarized online are not admissible in jurisdictions that do not permit the practice.
What is an affidavit used for?
These documents are among the most commonly used in legal proceedings. Here are a few common examples of cases where they may appear:
- Financial statements. In bankruptcy and divorce cases, courts may use financial affidavits to verify relevant financial information.
- Verification of residence. These documents are a common way for someone to verify their address in the absence of other proof.
- Verification of domicile. When a person dies, their executor can sign an affidavit confirming their final place of residence.
- Estate planning: Affidavits signed by the estate's owner must accompany estate planning documents such as wills.
- Marriage. Subjects can use these documents in place of a marriage certificate to verify a person’s marital status.
- Service. When legal representation files documents, they must submit an affidavit of service along with them. This confirms that the court officers served the documents to all relevant parties.
- Contract work. Contractors working on government projects submit these documents to verify that they've withheld the state taxes.
The law considers signing one of these documents equivalent to testifying under oath. This means knowingly including false information when signing one of these documents is an act of perjury. The penalty for perjury varies from state to state but could include fines, community service, or jail time.