According to the Legal Information Institute—a research group affiliated with Cornell Law School—an affidavit is best described as, “A voluntarily sworn declaration of written facts.” An affidavit is normally used as a written statement that presents evidence in court. While legal systems all over the world require affidavits, each court system tends to have its own formatting for sworn statements. As an example, the United Kingdom provides an affidavit template on the official U.K. government website. If you take a look, you’ll notice that the form used in the U.K. differs from the affidavit / solemn affirmation / solemn declaration form used in Canada.
To make matters more complicated, within the United States, courts in each state have unique expectations for formatting and supporting documentation. Plus, different categories of sworn statements must be written differently. So, for this article, we’ll try to explain some of the different requirements for submitting an affidavit, along with the types of affidavits you might come across. Keep in mind that this article should not be used as a substitute for formal legal advice. Also, because state laws vary, a lawyer who has passed the bar exam in Florida is not qualified to practice in Connecticut, a lawyer in Kansas could not give advice about a court case in Alabama, and so forth. You should use caution and be sure that any legal advice applies to the laws of your state.
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Unlike in the U.K., where one template can be used for many different kinds of sworn statements, the United States has many more forms to consider, and each one has unique form fields. Let’s take a look at one state and some of the different types of affidavit forms you might need there.
Since I live in Hawaii, I’ve compiled this list of affidavits with links to sample documents:
General Affidavit | This non-specific template can be used for many purposes, including making a statement of facts to be used under oath. In this particular sample affidavit, the written statement pertains to eligibility for Medicare; however, the paragraph formatting within the document could be used for a sworn statement on any topic.
Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property of the Decedent | Many states provide a form to help heirs claim ownership of property when a family member dies without a will. In the case of this particular Hawaiian form, the estate and assets must be limited to under $100,000. One of the bullet points in the sample affidavit refers to the reverse side of the form, so you can imagine that it would be important to print the form in its entirety.
Affidavit for Juror Expenses | This form specifies a juror’s reimbursement request for any expenses accumulated during the course of a trial.
Needless to say, these examples show the diversity of affidavit forms and content, and that’s only for one state! Some of the most common types of affidavits used across the United States include: an Affidavit of Citizenship, Affidavit of Name Change, Affidavit of Residence, Affidavit of Death, Affidavit of Heirship, Affidavit of Identity Theft, Affidavit of Service, Affidavit of Small Estate, Affidavit of Support, Affidavit of Divorce, and Financial Affidavit. Each kind of affidavit requires different information.
For instance, the Hawaiian Affidavit for Juror Expenses requires a 9-digit participant number. Unless you looked at the formal paperwork, you probably would not have any way of knowing that you should provide that information when you submit expenses. Even though each affidavit form is unique, we can still identify some of the common elements that all affidavits have.
1) Case Number
Any affidavit that pertains to a court case should include the case number for reference. For example, in the divorce affidavit template linked above, the case number appears in the upper right hand corner of the document.
2) Affiant Signature
The affiant, or the person swearing the affidavit, must sign the document.
3) Witness Signature
Many states require the presence of a notary public in order to take a sworn statement. The notary signature often goes beneath the affiant’s signature to show that they have observed the signing, then they certify the document by adding an official seal. Afterwards, in some states the notary must complete a notarial certificate called a jurat, which affirms that the affiant has made a sworn statement. In many cases, the jurat appears at the top (or the bottom) of the affidavit.
If an affidavit is taken as part of court proceedings, the court clerk or another court official may sign the affidavit. Either way, the signature block must be signed by both the affiant and a formal witness.
4) Supporting Documents
In addition to writing the statement (or filling out the form fields), an affiant may be required to submit supporting documentation such as receipts, a photocopy of a birth certificate, or proof of residency. As you can imagine, the documents required to prove a corporation’s financial status might be very different from those needed to prove citizenship.
If you’re writing a general affidavit, it’s common to include a title, a caption, and personal information (including place of residence and occupation) about the affiant. The exact language for the personal information, also called “the commencement,” varies by state.
Here’s an example—
Title: Affidavit of Jane Doe
Case Caption: Maui County Courthouse, Second Judicial Circuit Maui County, HI Jane Doe, Defendant, Fred Rogers, Plaintiff. Case Number 00001
Personal Information: Comes now the defendant, Jane Doe, 50 F, building manager at Aloha Apartments, 123 Kahana Street, Wailea, HI. She lives in Unit #301 and states as follows:
Writing a Sworn Statement
Next, after adding the first paragraph with the affiant’s personal information—full name, address, and occupation—the affiant gives a statement of truth. The affiant provides a first person narrative about the matter at hand, making sure to include a number of facts that might be relevant to the case. Typically, he or she would recount events in chronological order, giving a step-by-step description of what happened.
When writing a statement, the affiant should only provide information about which he or she has personal knowledge. Any rumors or personal opinions should be removed from the statement and replaced with factual descriptions. Wherever possible, the affiant or the affiant’s legal representation should provide related documents that lend credibility to the sworn statement.
It’s important to only include truthful information in a sworn statement. If a judge discovers that an affiant has provided inaccurate information, even by accident, the affiant could be charged with perjury. For instance, imagine that someone provided a false statement by giving the wrong home address or other inaccurate personal information in an affidavit. That person could be convicted of perjury, a crime punishable by a fine or jail time.
What Information to Include
Once you have a title, a caption, a commencement, a statement, and a signature block, you’ve assembled all the elements of a complete affidavit.
Still, we recommend consulting a lawyer to make sure that your affidavit contains everything you’ll need. We also recommend reviewing similar documents from past court cases in your state. Take a look at the facts that the affiants included in their statements, and look at the documents they submitted.
For additional help, refer to the American Bar Association. They provide links to help low-income individuals with legal aid, pro bono services, and free legal answers.
I’m an award-winning playwright with a penchant for wordplay. After earning a perfect score on the Writing SAT, I worked my way through Brown University by moonlighting as a Kaplan Test Prep tutor. I received a BA with honors in Literary Arts (Playwriting)—which gave me the opportunity to study under Pulitzer Prize-winner Paula Vogel. In my previous roles as new media producer with Rosetta Stone, director of marketing for global ventures with The Juilliard School, and vice president of digital strategy with Up & Coming Media, I helped develop the voice for international brands. From my home office in Maui, Hawaii, I currently work on freelance and ghostwriting projects.