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 acknowledgement of the authenticity of a document and a verification that proper processes were followed.

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 power 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.

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.

The Purpose of the Attestation of Documents

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 his or her 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 which 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 attestation 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.