Retirement is about enjoying your golden years, living off the nest egg you've built with a lifetime of hard work. But protecting your life savings is just as important as accumulating them in the first place.

Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are baskets of stocks picked by professional money managers that trade under a single ticker symbol. A basket of quality ETFs is like hitting the easy button to build a diverse portfolio. Here are five ETFs that retirees need to know about.

1. Buy the best companies in America

The broader stock market has historically moved higher over time, despite volatility shaking things up occasionally. The S&P 500 is an excellent index that lumps together 500 of America's largest, most dominant companies.

The SPDR S&P 500 Trust ETF (SPY -0.87%) is a great ETF to ride the stock market's historical performance; it mimics the S&P 500 and pays a quarterly dividend with a dividend yield of 1.4%. Its expense ratio is only 0.09%, so it's a cheap, simple tool to get broad stock market diversification into your portfolio.

2. A real estate ETF with yield

Buying ETFs doesn't mean you have only to own stocks; real estate is arguably the world's oldest type of investment, and you can benefit from owning properties with an ETF like the Real Estate Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLRE 0.39%).

This ETF concentrates heavily on real estate investment trusts (REITs), businesses that acquire and rent out properties and distribute the profits to shareholders as dividends. The ETF's top holdings include American Tower, Prologis, and Crown Castle International. The fund pays a quarterly dividend and yields 2.8%, and its expense fee is meager at just 0.10%.

3. Tapping into junk bonds for income

You can invest in the debt of corporations through the bonds they issue. When a company with mediocre credit sells bonds, they're often called junk bonds. They carry more risk but pay a higher yield to compensate. An ETF of junk bonds like iShares Fallen Angels USD Bond (FALN 0.27%) offers exposure to a diverse bucket of them so that you're not banking on a single company paying its debt.

For example, bonds from its top holding, Vodafone, have just a 2% weighting in the ETF. Higher risk, higher yield; the fund pays a dividend of 4.3%. Additionally, the fund pays monthly, a bonus for retirees looking for more frequent payments to cover their living expenses. The fund does charge a 0.25% expense ratio because the managers are more involved in managing riskier holdings.

4. Get dividends from preferred shares

Preferred stocks can be a great addition to a retirement portfolio; these are fixed-income assets that pay dividends but aren't as volatile as common shares. Retirees who want a monthly dividend with a juicy yield can consider adding SPDR Wells Fargo Preferred Stock ETF (PSK 0.42%).

The fund has a dividend yield of almost 5.8%, the highest of the five funds here. It leans heavily into the financial sector, which comprises 70% of the holdings. The ETF also charges a 0.45% expense ratio, putting it among the more costly funds you'll encounter. But if you're looking for high yield, it's hard to go wrong here.

5. An energy ETF you can count on

Many assume that the entire energy sector is volatile because of how the price of oil can zigzag over time. However, midstream companies that transport oil and gas are more stable because they depend on the volume they transport, not commodity prices.

Global X MLP & Energy Infrastructure ETF (MLPX 1.79%) can give retirees broad exposure to the different pipelines and other midstream companies that power our economy. The fund's top holdings include Enbridge and Kinder Morgan, among others. The fund yields a generous 4.8% and charges a 0.45% expense ratio. Fossil fuels should remain relevant for decades, so retirees can confidently buy this oil and gas fund.