Insurers say a wedding policy can reduce jitters on the big day

September 10, 2001|By Jeff Ostrowski | Jeff Ostrowski,COX NEWS SERVICE

Wedding dress? Check. Photographer, caterer, invitations? Check, check, check. Wedding insurance? Huh?

Only a tiny fraction of brides buy this newer type of policy that covers canceled ceremonies, no-show photographers and other nuptial mishaps. But two large insurers want to make wedding insurance as much a part of marriage as gift registries, open bars and tipsy uncles stumbling through the "Funky Chicken."

Through ads in bridal magazines, Fireman's Fund and Travelers Insurance are pushing the policies, which they market as peace of mind for beleaguered brides. The coverage typically costs from $150 to $500.

Wedding insurance won't cover cold-feet cancellations. But it pays out if a hurricane or death leads to the cancellation of the ceremony.

Insurers also pony up if wedding gifts are stolen, a dress is damaged or a car wreck prevents the florist from delivering flowers to the ceremony.

Neither insurer would say how many policies it sells, but both say it's a profitable line of business.

Whether the coverage is a good deal for consumers is another matter. Brides beware, consumer advocates and wedding planners say.

Wedding policies are unnecessary, says Robert Hunter, insurance director at the Consumer Federation of America.

If a thief carts off wedding gifts from a home or car, homeowners, renters or auto insurance will cover the losses. If the dry cleaner damages the bride's dress, the cleaner should pay up, he says.

"For the typical consumer, it's a dumb idea," Hunter says. "It's really rare that a wedding gets canceled. It takes an extraordinary event."

Wedding planners are less critical - but few of their clients buy policies, they add.

"Nobody even thinks about it, unless they're doing a very expensive wedding," says Gloria Hernandez, head of Weddings by Gloria in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Hernandez and other planners say brides can reduce their risk - and therefore their need for insurance - by working with established vendors. Reputable florists, photographers and DJs will credit deposits to another day if a hurricane cancels a wedding, they say. Wedding insurers counter that they'll cover lost deposits if vendors go out of business. What's more, they say, the high deductibles on homeowners and auto insurance make it difficult to recoup small losses.

But even insurers acknowledge that not every bride needs wedding insurance.

"If you're having a $5,000 wedding, it's not worth it," says John Kozero, spokesman for California-based Fireman's Fund Insurance.

But for a gala affair, the coverage is as indispensable as a toast from the best man, he says.

Brides and grooms should study their homeowners policies or renters insurance to determine whether stolen gifts or rings would be covered by insurance they already have, Kozero says.

They also should check with the reception hall to see how much liability insurance they carry.

Brides should consider their tolerance for risk, he adds. If you're mortified by the possibility of a mishap, buy the coverage. If you can shrug off the unlikely chance that an unforeseen event will ruin your ceremony, then don't bother.

If you're in the former category, expect to pay a few hundred dollars for coverage.

WedSafe, a California firm that sells wedding insurance underwritten by Travelers, offers policies starting at $155. The premium covers cancellation costs up to $7,500, including wedding photos, attire and lost deposits.

Even if the wedding isn't canceled, the policy covers rings, gifts and other items up to $1,000 for each category.

WedSafe's most expensive policy, at $375, covers $50,000 for cancellation, or $3,000 each for rings, gifts and other items.

An additional $150 buys a liability policy that covers up to $1 million in case of a post-reception car crash caused by a drunken guest and up to $1 million in property damage.

WedSafe began selling insurance in January. Fireman's Fund, the nation's only other wedding insurer, has sold policies since 1993.

Karen and Roger Sandau started WedSafe after their expensive wedding ceremony in Hawaii last year. Karen worried a freak accident would disrupt her 14 months of planning, and she was especially concerned when Roger's friends took him snowboarding for his bachelor party.

"There was so much time, so much planning and so much effort put into this event [that] if he were to break his arm or break his leg, I would break his neck," she says.

Sandau shrugs off criticism that wedding insurance isn't for the financially savvy.

If a bride can put her mind at ease during a stressful time, she says, a few hundred dollars is money well spent.

"The reason it's profitable," Sandau says, "is that it offers peace of mind."

The anxious Sandau managed to cobble together coverage for her big day - but she was hitched without a hitch.

Wedding insurance

What it covers

Damaged wedding dress

Re-creating the wedding party if the photographer is a no-show

Lost or stolen gifts

Lost or stolen rings

Deposits if a natural disaster or death in the family cancels the ceremony

Up to $500 for counseling for a bride or groom in case of a death or trauma before the ceremony

What it doesn't cover

Cold feet. If bride or groom has a change of heart, insurers don't pay.

Source: WedSafe.com

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