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Notary Bulletin

FAQ: Administering Oaths And Affirmations

Oaths and affirmations are an important part of the legal profession, and it’s important that they are properly administered by Notaries who work in the field of law. Here are some important points Notaries should know about oaths and affirmations.

What’s the difference between the two? Both oaths and affirmations are notarial acts that compel a person to be truthful. Oaths and affirmations are spoken promises of truthfulness and achieve the same legal result. The difference between them is the nature of the promise—an oath is a solemn, spoken pledge to a deity or higher power, while an affirmation is a spoken pledge made on a person’s own personal honor with no reference to a Supreme Being. Depending on personal beliefs, a person may choose to take either an oath or an affirmation before a Notary.

What elements are required for an oath or affirmation? When administering an oath or affirmation to an individual, the individual must personally appear before the Notary and speak the oath or affirmation aloud in the Notary’s presence. A third party may not take an oath or affirmation on someone else’s behalf before a Notary Public.

Traditionally, when an oath or affirmation is administered, both the Notary and the individual taking the oath or affirmation raise their right hands, palms forward. While this is not a legal requirement in most states, it emphasizes the seriousness of the ceremony. When administering oaths, a Notary may sometimes ask the individual to place one hand on an appropriate religious text while raising the other in a pledging gesture. The Notary and individual taking the oath or affirmation should avoid any frivolous conduct or inappropriate humor that would trivialize the ceremony. Remember that an oath or affirmation has legal effect and should always be taken seriously. A person who takes an oath or affirmation in connection with official legal proceedings may be prosecuted for perjury if found to be untruthful.

What’s the difference between a verbal oath or affirmation and a jurat? Notaries are empowered to administer either a verbal oath or affirmation, or a jurat. A jurat is an oath or affirmation related to a signed document, where the signer signs a document in the Notary’s presence and then swears or affirms before the Notary the truthfulness of the document’s contents. A signer of an affidavit or deposition used in legal matters may need a jurat executed before a Notary in order to certify that the contents of the affidavit or deposition.

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