Dear Ann Landers:

Two years ago I hired an attorney to represent me in a legal matter. He told me it would cost $3,000. I gave him $1,000, and we agreed that I would make monthly payments of $100 until it was paid off.

Imagine my surprise when, after my case was over, I received a bill for $6,795. When I called the attorney and asked about the statement, all he said was, "Well, that is what it costs." According to him, I still owe him $3,500.

I realize it was stupid of me not to have a signed contract specifying what the bill would be. But this attorney, knowing our verbal agreement, never once contacted me to let me know the bill would be so exorbitant. Is there anything I can do, or must I pay the entire fee? I don't feel he deserves it, but I don't want to wreck my credit rating. What should I do?

--Legally Entangled

If this attorney agreed to charge you $3,000 and did not incur any extraordinary expenses during the proceedings, you may have a case. Contact the state bar association or the state disciplinary commission, and ask them to look into the matter. It will cost you nothing to report it. Good luck--and next time, be sure to get agreements in writing, even when you are dealing with attorneys.

Dear Ann Landers:

When I read the letter from "St. Pete" about the man who dressed up as Batman and ended up hitting his head on the ceiling fan, it reminded me of an embarrassing incident that happened years ago.

My husband and I were newlyweds, getting ready to attend a Halloween party given by friends. I came home from work and asked my hubby to answer the door for the trick-or-treaters while I took a bath.

As I was running the water, I thought, "Wouldn't it be fun to play a trick on him?" So I put on my flapper raccoon coat and a mask, and without a stitch on under the coat, I sneaked around the house and rang the doorbell. When my husband answered, I threw open my coat and shouted, "Trick or treat!"

He was so stunned that he backed up, fell down the steps of the sunken living room, hit his head and knocked himself unconscious.

I phoned for an ambulance and had to explain to the authorities what happened. My husband was taken to the hospital, where they said he had suffered a concussion.

We never made it to the Halloween party, and, of course, I had to tell my friends why. They thought it was hilarious.

My husband and I will celebrate our 40th anniversary soon. I still love Halloween but have refrained from pulling any more startling surprises. Life is so much easier if you have a sense of humor.

--Toni in Long Island, N.Y.

What a story! Laughter is indeed the elixir of life, and it can be a great protector. There are times when, if we couldn't laugh, we'd cry.

Questions may be sent to: Ann Landers, c/o Creators Syndicate, 5777 W. Century Blvd., Suite 700, Los Angeles, Calif. 90045.

(c) 1999, Creators Syndicate