There are times when a big yield is a sign that a company is in trouble. However, that's not always the case, and right now you can collect fat dividends from real estate investment trust (REIT) W.P. Carey (NYSE:WPC) and international energy giant Total (NYSE:TOT) without taking on as much risk as you might think. Here's why these two high-yield stocks should be on your watch list right now. 

1. Sailing through

When the coronavirus pandemic started to spread, governments around the world effectively shut their economies to slow it down. It was devastating to many businesses, with some real estate investment trusts finding it hard to collect the rents they were owed. That was never an issue for W.P. Carey, however, which collected 96% of its rents in May 2020, during the worst of the pandemic's impact on its business. In other words, the pandemic wasn't a huge business disruption for W.P. Carey. 

A piggy bank with word dividend on it.

Image source: Getty Images.

In fact, the REIT actually saw it as an opportunity to invest in industrial and warehouse assets. That fits in with W.P. Carey's opportunistic investment approach and net-lease focus. The core of its business is basically acquiring properties and then leasing them right back to the sellers under long-term contracts that require the lessees to pay most property expenses. Companies are happy to do this, particularly during turbulent times like today, because they retain access to vital properties while raising money to use for other purposes. But one of the most important things about W.P. Carey is that it has lots of levers to pull as it looks to put cash to work. 

Today, industrial (25% of rents) and warehouse (22%) deals are the current focus, but tomorrow it could be retail (18%), office (22%), or self-storage (5%). That's because W.P. Carey is one of the most diversified net-lease REITs you can buy. And it isn't limited to U.S. property markets either, with 39% of its rents derived from outside of the domestic market, largely coming from Europe. W.P. Carey is built to perform and grow in just about any environment. 

That's why this 6.1%-yielding stock is so interesting at a time when the S&P 500 Index yields less than 2%. But there's more here than that: W.P. Carey has increased its dividend every year since its IPO in 1998 -- 24 years and counting. If you are looking for a rock-solid dividend payer, W.P. Carey is a name you will almost certainly love. 

2. Changing with the times

The next name here, energy industry giant Total, is more of an acquired taste. Energy demand plummeted when governments effectively shut down their economies in early 2020, leading to a deep drop in oil prices. Total and its peers all suffered material top-and bottom-line declines, with some of the biggest names in the sector cutting their dividends. However, Total was not one of the dividend cutters. In fact, when times got tough, it provided investors with a key figure to monitor: $40. As long as oil averaged around that value, Total believed it would be able to maintain its dividend. So far oil has averaged above that level, and the dividend has held. 

WPC Dividend Yield Chart

WPC Dividend Yield data by YCharts

Meanwhile, Total, like some of its European peers, has laid out a path that includes shifting toward non-carbon energy. But Total isn't new to the space, having invested in it for years. It's just picking up the pace a little. It is not giving up on oil and natural gas, however, since it expects these fuels to be vital to the global economy for years to come. It's basically looking to shift its operations around a bit (shrinking in oil and growing in natural gas) so it can use the cash flow to help fund an expansion in cleaner alternatives. It's a middle-of-the-road approach in an industry where U.S. integrated names are sticking to oil and Total's European peers are shifting more aggressively away from oil (and using the cash freed up from dividend cuts to help fund the transition). 

All in, Total is something of a punt. But with a 7% dividend yield and that $40 line in the sand, more aggressive investors will probably be just fine with the way the company is dealing with the changing state of the energy sector. In fact, compared to its peers, Total's plans look downright conservative. 

Collecting dividend checks

W.P. Carey and its diversified business offer a generous 6% yield that's appropriate for just about any type of investor. Its strength throughout the pandemic is proof of how strong a foundation it has. Meanwhile, Total is a bit tougher to love, even though its foundation held up well even with the gale-force winds it had to deal with in the energy sector. The uncertainty of a changing energy landscape is the big long-term issue, but Total's measured approach to change and commitment to its dividend should be a comfort to most dividend investors.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.