May 31, 2013 at 11:28 AM ET
Last year, Natalia Esparra, then 34 and a new bride, learned that something had gone wrong with her photographer's memory card and that all of her wedding photos had disappeared. Three recovery companies looked at the memory card, the backup hard drive and the laptop, but only 98 photos -- none with the wedding party in them -- were salvaged.
"It was absolutely devastating," says Esparra, a veterinary technician in San Francisco.
It was for people like Esparra that wedding insurance was created, and fortunately for her, she had it. Her insurance would have paid up to $2,000 to recreate the entire wedding party photographs, although she and her husband opted to spend $550 and only re-shoot photos of the two of them.
Wedding insurance is celebrating its twentieth anniversary. In 1993, Fireman's Fund Insurance Company, based out of Novato, Calif., began offering the coverage at a time when the average wedding cost $16,000. WedSafe, a product from the company Aon, headquartered in Jericho, N.Y., started offering it in 1999. Personal Insurance from Travelers companies Inc., based out of Hartford, Conn., and another major player in the market, started in 2007. Other carriers offer the coverage as well.
Maybe it seems like insurance is just one more unaffordable expense while you are shelling out for the flowers, the invites and the dress. But those very expenses are what might make coverage compelling.
"In 2012, the average cost of a wedding was in the range of $25,000," says Chantal Cyr, vice president of personal insurance for Travelers. "That's the average cost of a new car, and you'd never buy a new car and not insure it."
But wedding insurance isn't like an auto plan. It only covers about 24 hours of your life and has nuances that consumers should understand before saying "I do - want that policy."
Here are the basics:
It won't blow the budget. Wedding insurance isn't expensive, compared to an average wedding.
The cost varies, depending on the insurer, the state your wedding is in and factors like whether you're getting liability coverage, which cover you if someone gets hurt at your wedding or a guest, inadvertently or perhaps inebriated, causes property damage.
Premiums can be as low as $100 to as high as $1,000 if you are buying liability coverage and hosting an open bar. Typically, people pay around $320 to $420 for a $25,000 wedding.
It covers a multitude of nightmares.
A good policy will protect your investment against almost everything you could imagine going wrong with a wedding. If your military groom is called away to service at the last moment, insurance would pay for the cost, or much of the costs, incurred in postponing the wedding. If the bride breaks her leg and can't be there to walk down the aisle, wedding insurance covers that. If someone breaks into the reception hall and steals all of the gifts, that, too, is probably going to be covered.
Everything depends on the specifics of the policy you buy, but vendor and weather issues are the main causes of disruption. In 2012, 58 percent of Travelers' claims had to do with problems with the photographer or videographer and 21 percent, with a caterer. Some 11 percent of the claims involved the disc jockey; 5 percent, the wedding planner and another five percent covered miscellaneous problems.
But it doesn't cover or fix everything.
"Wedding insurance doesn't cover a change of heart," says Cyr. Some plans do, though they tack on a long list of exceptions.
And while wedding insurance will pay for the cost of repairing a ripped gown at the reception, it is best to get the gown and ring fully covered through homeowner's or rental insurance, says Laura Adams, a senior insurance analyst for InsuranceQuotes.com.
Timing matters too, so make sure your policy is explicit about when it is in force. "If the policy is going to cover both the wedding and rehearsal dinner, those events need to be close together, usually within a 48-hour period," says Adams. If your coverage ends at 2 a.m., but your reception plows on until 4 o'clock when your drunken brother-in-law gets into a fist fight with the hotel staff, you're out of luck.
Finally, know that getting that check can help, but it can't make up for missing a once-in-a-lifetime moment. Esparra didn't resurrect the entire wedding party because everyone was scattered across the country, and her father-in-law had died. Two thousand dollars wouldn't have even covered all the airfare necessary to bring everyone back and re-shoot those lost photos.
But recreating photos with her new husband, so she could put the dress on one more time and relive the day, at least a bit? Worth the insurance.