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What Is an Affidavit?

PERSONAL AFFAIRS - 03/13/14

An affidavit is a legal document that is very similar to a witness’s sworn testimony in a court of law. Prior to giving testimony, a witness in a court trial must swear that what they are about to say is true and correct under penalty of perjury. An affidavit is a written version of this same form of sworn testimony and carries the same penalty of perjury, only it is used to attest to things outside of the courtroom. The key element of an affidavit is that it must be witnessed and signed by a notary public or by someone who has the authority to witness an oath and attest to its authenticity.

1. Affidavits Can Be Used as a Legal Promise in Writing

Affidavits are a common legal document that many people sign and attest to without even knowing they are doing so. A voter registration card is a form of affidavit because you must swear that the information you’re giving to the registrar is true and correct under penalty of perjury. Even though a voter registration card is not attested to by a notary public, it is signed by a county clerk or other official with the authority to witness the oath.

It is also common for universities and colleges to require a statement of residency from incoming students. Students that reside in the state a university or college is located in often receive reduced tuition, so they are required to sign a statement of residency proving that they reside in that state, which is, in essence, an affidavit.

2. Affidavits Act as a Written Oath

Even actions as straightforward as legally changing a person’s name require a signed affidavit from the petitioner guaranteeing that the name change request is not being conducted for illegal purposes or to defraud creditors. When a foreign citizen enters the United States on a family or fiancée visa, the immigration service requires proof that the individual will not become a financial burden on the US government. The individual's sponsor must sign an affidavit of support that promises under oath that they are capable of supporting the individual.

3. Affidavits Maintain the Force of Law

There are countless other legal scenarios that exist which require an affidavit of one form or another to be signed and attested to, such as:

Affidavits are basically a method used to ensure that an individual is held legally responsible for any promises they make regarding the information contained in the affidavit. It is absolutely vital that individuals thoroughly read and understand all the information contained in the affidavit prior to signing it. Once the affidavit is witnessed and attested to by a notary public or other official, it holds the force of law and binds the individual to the truthfulness of the information that they have provided.

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