What is the Difference Between an Oath and Affirmation?

When executing a jurat, many notaries fail to ask signers if they prefer to swear or affirm to the truthfulness of the contents within the documents they are signing. The reason is simple: many notaries are not aware that some signers, who have religious convictions against swearing to God, may object to do so and prefer making a promise made on one’s own conscience without addressing a supreme being. 

This is why understanding the difference between an oath and affirmation is important. An oath is a declaration made to God or a Supreme Being. In contrast, an affirmation is a solemn vow by the signer that has no pledge to a higher power but to the signer’s personal honor. Since both have the same legal effect, it is up to the signer to choose to make an oath or affirmation.

Knowing this enables the notary to take into consideration the personal preferences of the signer. It is also essential to know that oaths and affirmations are legally binding and are equivalent in the eyes of the law. Making a false statement under either one is a criminal offense called perjury.

At the beginning of the notarial act, a notary can ask the signer if he or she wants to swear or affirm to the truthfulness of the document’s content. If the individual does not know the difference, the notary can explain what each is (without getting into the unauthorized practice of law) and let the signer choose which one. Once a choice has been made, it is advisable to ask the signer to raise his or her hand, or to make some other gesture such as putting the hand on the heart, to underscore the importance of the act. This is not required by law, but it is recommended.

In states that do not require statutory wording when performing the oath’s oral ceremony, the notary will ask the signer:

“Do you solemnly swear under penalty of perjury that the statements in this document are true and correct to the best of your knowledge and belief, so help you God?”

The signer will reply:

“I do” or “yes.”

If the signer prefers to affirm to the truthfulness of the document’s content, the notary will ask the signer:

“Do you solemnly affirm under penalty of perjury that the statements in this document are true and correct to the best of your knowledge and belief?”

The signer will reply:

“I do” or “yes.”

The signer must speak up loudly when swearing or affirming. Nodding one’s head is unacceptable. The notary then completes the jurat, which on paper is a notarial certificate usually located at the bottom of a document.

Like all notarial acts, the notary and signer must take performing oaths and affirmations seriously. Having to make an oral pledge may seem awkward or insignificant, but it is a critical part of the notarial act and is legally binding. Completing a jurat without an oral ceremony invalidates the notarial act. It is also crucial to have the signer sign the document again in your presence if he or she did so before meeting you to perform the jurat. Write an entry in your record book stating you requested a duplicate signature. Remember, an attorney-in-fact cannot take an oath and swear to facts on behalf of a principal signer.

When a notary executes a jurat notarial certificate, a document recipient is assured that:

  1. the document signer was properly identified using acceptable ID documents;
  2. the signer personally appeared and signed the document before a notary;
  3. the notary performed the verbal ceremony of an oath or affirmation; and
  4. the signer is swearing or affirming to the truth of the document’s contents.

Some states have their own rules and regulations regarding administering oaths and affirmations. Thus, if you have any questions regarding them, refer to your state’s notary laws. It is imperative that you closely adhere to such laws.

By Evelin Garcia, a Contributing Writer with the American Association of Notaries, Inc.

Legal Disclaimer: The American Association of Notaries seeks to provide timely articles for notaries to assist them with information for managing their notary businesses, enhancing their notary education, and securing their notary stamp and notary supplies. Every effort is made to provide accurate and complete information in the American Association of Notaries newsletters. However, we make no warrant, expressed or implied, and we do not represent, undertake, or guarantee that the information in the newsletter is correct, accurate, complete, or non-misleading. Information in this article is not intended as legal advice. We are not attorneys. We do not pretend to be attorneys. Though we will sometimes provide information regarding notaries' best practices, federal laws and statutes, and the laws and statutes of each state, we have gathered this information from a variety of sources and do not warrant its accuracy. In no event shall the American Association of Notaries, its employees, or contractors be liable to you for any claims, penalties, loss, damage, or expenses, howsoever arising, including, and without limitation, direct or indirect loss or consequential loss out of or in connection with the use of the information contained in the American Association of Notaries newsletters. It is your responsibility to know the appropriate notary laws governing your state. Notaries are advised to seek the advice of their states' notary authorities or attorneys in their state if they have legal questions. If a section of this disclaimer is determined by any court or other competent authority to be unlawful and/or unenforceable, the other sections of this disclaimer continue in effect.

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