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A 50-year celebration for tax tactician Sidney Kess

The year 2019 has brought many 50th anniversaries. Among other things, 1969 saw the moon landing, Woodstock, and championships for New York’s Jets and Mets.

That year also saw the inaugural UJA-Federation of New York’s Estate Tax & Financial Planning Conference, organized and introduced by Sidney Kess. The 50th anniversary edition of that original conference will be held in New York City on Sept. 18, with Michael Desmond, chief counsel of the Internal Revenue Service, serving as the keynote speaker.

Yet another notable occurrence a half-century ago was the passage of the Tax Reform Act of 1969, which included many provisions affecting private foundations. The UJA-Federation wanted to reach out to professionals such as lawyers and accountants, encouraging them to engage in charitable fundraising activities that complied with this new law. The UJA-Federation’s efforts included meeting with Kess, who has law degrees from Harvard and New York University, as well as a CPA designation. At the time, Kess had just been named national director of taxation at the CPA firm Main LaFrentz.

Sidney Kess
Sidney Kess

At that meeting with UJA-Federation, Kess expressed the belief that most CPAs and attorneys lacked formal training in estate planning or financial planning. The organization, he suggested, could fill this void with a conference on those subjects and relevant tax issues. Kess agreed to organize and moderate such a conference, provided there would be no fundraising at the meeting and that the subject matter would focus on helping all charities, rather than promoting the UJA-Federation.

With those underlying premises, the conference has become a well-respected and well-attended event in the financial advisory world. Speakers have included former IRS commissioners, assistant Treasury secretaries for tax policy, surrogate judges, acclaimed attorneys and admired accountants. Such speakers have attracted hundreds of attendees, who can learn from experts while earning CLE/CPE and CFP continuing education credits.

This year's program

At the 2019 conference, morning session topics will range from changing residency to charitable giving to Medicaid planning, followed by workshops on subjects such as providing for incapacity and estate planning for IRAs.

At the luncheon program, Sidney Kess will introduce keynote speaker Michael Desmond who will describe how the IRS is implementing the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. (Kess was recently injured, but will be speaking remotely from home, where he is recuperating.)

Afternoon sessions will include real estate and various creative planning tips. Winding up, more workshops will be on the menu; one of those workshops, on international planning for non-resident clients, will feature Chaya Siegfried, CPA, the lead of International Business Tax at accounting firm WithumSmith+Brown in Red Bank, New Jersey.

The UJA-Federation will cite Kess for his 50 years of dedication to this conference, expressing its appreciation for the knowledge, energy, and commitment he has invested each year.

50 times 2

Impressive as Kess’s work with the UJA-Federation has been, it’s not the only major anniversary for him this year. He’s also celebrating 50 years of producing a monthly column, Tax Tips, for the New York Law Journal, covering tax topics of interest to attorneys, showing a considerable breadth of knowledge. On and on, month after month, for the last 50 years, Kess has explained a wide variety of tax code nuances to the publication’s readers.

What’s more, these contributions are only part of his distinguished history. He served in France and Germany during World War II and completed his education under the G.I. Bill. Besides working for Main LaFrentz, as mentioned, Kess’ career path also included stints as a tax partner at KPMG Peat Marwick and as national director of tax at KPMG Main Hurdman.

Kess also has written, co-authored, and edited many books, including "Financial and Estate Planning Guide" and "Retirement Planning Guide." In 2017, the American Institute of CPAs created "The Sid Kess Approach," a 160-page book, to celebrate Kess’ many contributions to the CPA profession.

Among many honors, Kess has been named the Most Influential Practitioner by CPA Magazine, been included among Accounting Today’s Top 100 Most Influential People in Accounting, and received the AICPA’s Special Recognition Award for his many years of contributions to the AICPA’s continuing professional education program. Indeed, the AICPA has established the Sidney Kess Award for Excellence in Continuing Education, to recognize individual CPAs who have made significant and outstanding contributions in tax and financial planning and whose public service exemplifies the CPA profession’s finest values and ethics. (Kess was the first recipient of this award.)

Kess has been inducted into the Estate Planning Hall of Fame by the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils for his distinguished service to the field of estate planning. The New York State Society of CPAs also has placed Kess in its Hall of Fame. Still active, Kess is a senior consultant to Top 100 Firm Citrin Cooperman, and of counsel to law firm Kostelanetz & Fink.