Where's the best place in the Washington area to have your silver stolen?

Stated another way, in which jurisdiction do insurance companies offer the best deal for replacement of sterling silver, gold or pewter items taken in a burglary? Recent skyrocketing prices of precious metals have forced insurers to play catch-up ball, resulting in disparate rates and terms available in the District, Maryland and Virginia.

Consider first the sad case of a Virginia resident whose entire silver service worth $6,000 was looted last week.Under the terms of his homeowner's policy, all of the silver should have been replaced, subject to the deductible, up to the limit of his policy. (A standard homeowner policy covers personal property for up to half the insured value of the house; thus the contents of a $100,000 houses are insured for $50,000.)

The Virginian also had taken out a floater for $2,000 of additional insurance on his silver several years ago, when the price of the metal was one-third its present value. sEach insured piece is listed separately on a floater, which insures against all risks, including fire and mysterious disappearance. (The standard homeowner policy limits full replacement coverage to loss by theft.)

Though the Virginian admits he was neglectful in not having updated the floater to reflect the current value of the service -- $6,000 -- he was shocked to find that because he had not taken out a floater, the insurance company would pay off only on the floater, not the homeowner policy. So, the maximum amount he could collect was $2,000, not $6,000. In other words, had he not bothered to take out additional coverage in the first place, he would have been better off. He had paid a premium for nothing.

This ironic situation results from a clause in the standard homeowner policy that excludes payment for "property which is separately described and specifically insured in whole or in part by this or any other insurance."

"This policyholder got screwed," remarked George Stathis, a Northern Virginia insurance agent. Robert Tacey, a claims adjuster for Nationwide, said he thought the insurer was correct, although he faulted the insurer for not reminding the silver owner to keep the floater up to date.

Peter Synnott, Virginia's deputy insurance commissioner, confirmed that the insurance company had made a correct interpretation of the state-approved policy. The rash of claims since silver prices soared has prompted many insurance companies writing in Virginia to ask for limitations on the amount of coverage provided under the homeowner policy. Most states now have such limitations. Synnott said that one is under consideration, but any action would be a year or so in the future.

Despite the case of the unfortunate Virginian, residents of that state who have just standard homeowner policies get a better deal, generally speaking, on theft of their silver than do residents of the District and Maryland.

The standard homeowner policy used in the District places a $1,000 cap on the amount an insurer can pay for stolen silver, gold or pewter, minus the deductible. Additional coverage of $2,000 can be obtained in units of $500 at a cost of 20 cents per $100. (Some large insurers have received regulatory approval to deviate from the standard policy, but they are not permitted to charge more than the standard rate.)

Deputy D.C. commissioner Fred Brewer said insurance companies have requested a tripling of that rate. The current floater rate, set by International Services Organization, is still 24 cents per $100, although ISO has filed to double it. Some nonmember companies already charge 50 cents.

If the poor Virginian had lived in the District, he would have received either a replacement or cash for his silver service up to the amount provided for unscheduled items in the homeowner policy -- $1,000 -- plus the value of the floater. (These policies are complementary, not duplicative. You cannot collect on both for the same article.)

Until earlier this year, Maryland had no limit on the amount of silver, gold or pewter covered in the standard homeowner policy, minus the deductible, provided the total was not more than the value of the policy.

Now the limit generally is $1,000, although a few companies still have unlimited coverage. That state's rate for increased coverage is three times the District's present rate, or $3 for each $500, up to a limit of $3,000. (Some companies offer as much as $9,000 coverage.) For scheduled items, the floater rate was increased last June to 50 cents per $100, more than twice the Virginia and District rates.

When asked about the experience of the customer in Virginia, Maryland's insurance commissioner, Edward J. Birrane, Jr., replied: "A company trying that in Maryland would be in deep trouble. I would tell them to pay or get fined. What they're doing is pure mirrors!"

At this writing, the unfortunate Virginian is still trying to get his insurance company to reconsider. He also has vowed to read the fine print in the contract in future.