What Is Attestation?

Attestation is the act of witnessing the signing of a formal document and then also signing it to verify that it was properly signed by those bound by its contents. Attestation is a legal acknowledgment of the authenticity of a document and a verification that proper processes were followed.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, attestation is "an official verification of something as true or authentic." The person verifying the authenticity or validity of something or someone is an attester. These assertions of truth are often done in writing to certify the statements.

Key Takeaways

  • An attestation is a certification that a document and the signatures within are valid.
  • Attestations are generally found in wills and trusts.
  • The attester should have no professional or personal association with either of the signatories.
  • U.S. state probate laws govern the validity and formation of attestation clauses.
  • Attestations were born from the need for independent verification of recorded events.

Understanding Attestation

Broadly speaking, an attestation is a third-party recognition of a documented agreement's validity. Ideally, the person or party acting as the witness of the signing has no professional or personal association with either of the signatories. In some states, this criterion is enforced by state probate law. 

Attestations are most commonly associated with agreements of great personal and financial significance, especially legal documents involving wills or powers of attorney. Attestations are also used when a witness is filing a police report. The witness signs to confirm that their statement is valid, and another person signs as an attestation that the first signature was authentic.

False certifications could violate the U.S. False Claims Act, and violators could be liable for damages and additional penalties. 

Attestation differs from notarization, which requires a state-commissioned notary public to not only sign but add their personal stamp to the document in question.

How Attestation Works

Attestations are common in wills and trusts. In this situation, an attestation generally verifies:

  • That the testator (the person signing the will) is of sound mind.
  • That the testator executed the will voluntarily as an expression of their intentions.
  • That the testator signed the will and that the party performing the attestation witnessed the signing. 

The form and application of attestation clauses to legal documents is prescribed by state probate law in the United States. While attestation clauses may vary somewhat from state to state, the essential function and intent of the attestation are generally consistent.

In 1946, the American Bar Association published a Model Probate Code that was intended to act as a legal standard. Most state probate codes are closely based on the 1946 code, with occasional minor adjustments. For the most part, the biggest variations in attestation clauses from state to state relate to who can perform a third-party attestation.

The History Behind Attestation

The process of attestation arises from the tradition of seeking independent verification of recorded events. Biblical scholars have long used the criterion of multiple attestations to determine which miracles Jesus can be said to have performed.

Historians are always more confident of an event when they have multiple sources verifying its occurrence. While the principle of verifying an event can be found throughout human history, the qualifications or criteria for verification generally conform to the social norms and legal standards of the society in question.

Attestation Example

Most often, attestation clauses are found in wills and trusts, as well as other legal documents. However, they are also found in other fields and disciplines, such as medicine and healthcare. Often, physicians and medical directors sign attestations when working with medical students and residents and when providing or ordering Medicare services.

For example, a teaching physician may sign and date a general attestation that states that they were present with the student when a specific procedure was performed. They will also attest that they supervised the visit, reviewed the person's medical history and the student's documentation of the visit, and rendered a decision based on those details and their examination.

The Bottom Line

An attestation involves certifying the validity of a document and the signatures on it. The party attesting to the truthfulness of the document's agreement should be an uninterested third party to prevent a conflict of interest.

Most commonly, attestations in legal documents, such as wills and trusts, are governed by state probate laws. However, attestations are not exclusive to legal documents and can be used in any field or industry.