By Sarah Meehan, USA TODAY

At age 14,  Sarah Williams had already chosen Maryland’s Eastern Shore as the backdrop for her wedding

Last August when the bride-to-be, now 25, booked a sprawling plantation on the Wye River for her reception, plans for the fairy tale wedding of her childhood dreams started to crystallize. She selected a caterer, florist and DJ for the September wedding, and her father, Stephen Williams, shelled out nearly $10,000 for the facility.

But by early December, the reception hall had filed for bankruptcy and gone up for public auction — without any warning to the Williams family.

Such a pre-wedding disaster is not unusual, wedding insurance providers say. During the last several years, many wedding insurance policyholders have filed claims because venues and vendors have gone out of business before the big day.

“The claims are shooting up through the walls — the DJ goes out of business, the photographer goes out of business, the venue takes your money and is actually in bankruptcy,” says Robert Nuccio, president and CEO of R.V. Nuccio & Associates, the program administrator for Fireman’s Fund wedding insurance. “When they take your money, they’re already out of business.”

Last year, about a third of wedding insurance claims with both Travelers Insurance (31%) and WedSafe, a unit of Aon, (38%) fell under vendor or venue mishaps.

While the recession is largely to blame for these suppliers going under, it has also prompted wedding financiers to approach their nuptials with financial caution, says Chantal Cyr, vice president of personal insurance for Travelers.

“People are more in tune than ever to protect their investments,” Cyr says. “It’s a significant investment — it’s like buying a car and not insuring a car.”

WedSafe has seen a 60% jump in policy sales since 2007, says Aon Vice President Steven Lauro, and Travelers has also seen steady increases in wedding insurance sales during the same period.

Premiums vary based on the overall cost of a wedding, and many insurance providers allow customers to cover wedding particulars — such as photography, the gown or wedding bands — for additional charges. Cancellation coverage typically insures these items, and liability insurance, which venues are increasingly requiring couples to carry, protects the hosts against injuries to guests or property damage.

Weddings cost an average of $26,501, according to the 2011 Brides American Wedding Study. To insure a typical wedding — a $25,000 celebration, for example — premiums range from $320 to $420, which includes both cancellation and liability coverage, as well as insurance for items such as attire, photography and wedding gifts.

“In this volatile economy, wedding insurance is a wise investment and only costs a fraction of the goods and deposits it covers,” says David Wood, president of the Association of Bridal Consultants.

However, if the wedding party knows its providers closely — or if the vendors are highly reputable — wedding insurance may not be necessary, Wood says.

Without a separate wedding insurance policy, couples can protect select aspects of their wedding through homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, which often covers wedding gifts and engagement rings. However, some couples are still unaware they can insure everything from the rehearsal dinner to the after party, several insurance representatives say.

“Some people just don’t realize that they have the option of protecting their wedding, and they don’t realize the risk that they’re running in not protecting it,” Lauro says.

Others, such as filmmaker Cory McGee, accept that risk. McGee was married last August and opted not to insure her wedding.

“I’m a huge risk-taker in life, and I never thought that buying wedding insurance was worth it because had I died or had something tragic happened before the wedding, I think it has something to do with fate,” McGee says, noting her wedding went off without a hitch.

Williams was more wary, and with good reason. With less than a year before the big day, it wouldn’t be easy for her to re-create the wedding she had pictured since her teens, but a policy her father purchased from Travelers helped them recover his full deposit and reserve a new waterfront location.

Although she pushed the ceremony back by a month, Williams found a new site on the Chester River, where she will tie the knot in October.

“She has the water again,” Stephen Williams says. “It made a painful situation a little easier.”

Insurance may have helped smooth this snag, but it might not be the last of Stephen Williams’ wedding anxieties. He has two more unmarried daughters.