A personal affidavit is a legal instrument by which a person swears to the authenticity and truthfulness of written facts. The term “affidavit” derives from Medieval Latin and means “he has declared on oath.” Modern use of the term in both the United States and Great Britain is consistent with this definition, and personal affidavits are commonly used in both countries as a way for people to establish individual testimony. Most personal affidavits are related to court matters, particularly civil trials, but can be used whenever truthful dealing is required. Personal affidavits exist as a means of verifying the truth, and false statements made within them can subject signatories to court sanctions for perjury and other offenses.
The first affidavits were used in early English courts of law and have become a regular facet of the English Common Law system, which is the basis of the legal system in the United States. The requirements for what a personal affidavit must contain to be admissible in court or valid as other evidence of truth vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In the United States, the proper form of a personal affidavit is a matter of state law.
Affidavits as legal instruments are generally drafted by attorneys who are familiar with the specific requirements of their jurisdictions. Individuals who want to draw up affidavits between themselves — whether for business contracts or other purposes — can find many resources for general affidavits online and in law libraries, among other places, but should carefully research the governing rules for their location before drafting and signing documents. An affidavit that is not properly worded or created may not have weight in court.
Generally, all personal affidavits begin with an identification of the “declarant,” the person who is making the declarations, and the physical location — a street address, or even just a city — where those declarations are being made. Next, the affidavit will set out the relevant facts. If the affidavit is being used as court testimony, the facts section will include the declarant’s version of the events or his knowledge of certain relevant information. Finally, the affidavit will provide a place for the declarant to sign, accompanied by a statement of truth known as an “attestation,” as well as a notary page, if notarization is required.
Notarization is required for most personal affidavits. An affidavit is notarized when the declarant brings it to a notary public and signs it in the notary’s presence. In the United States, a notary public is a state-licensed professional whose job it is to witness signatures and administer oaths. A notary public will check the declarant’s identification before witnessing the signature and will seal the signed affidavit with an official stamp. The seal certifies that the declarant is who he says he is, the declarant appears competent to make the declarations, and the declarant understands that the affidavit is a legally binding document.
When a personal affidavit is used outside of court testimony, notarization is not always required. When people in the United States register to vote, for instance, they are required to fill out a non-notarized personal affidavit that their voter registration application contains legitimate, correct information. Similarly, affidavits asserting bank fraud, identity theft, and certain property ownership questions require only signatures, not notarization, to be binding.
The most defining trait of the personal affidavit is its commitment to honesty. The central point of an affidavit is that it is, by virtue of its form and signature, a sworn oath of truthfulness. False statements on any personal affidavit will subject the declarant to perjury charges and possibly also contempt-of-court charges. It is, therefore, advisable for declarants to carefully read and understand all of any personal affidavit before signing it.