The COVID-19 crisis has resulted in a retirement reset characterized by widespread financial uncertainty and concern among older Americans, according to research by the Alliance for Lifetime Income. In a nationwide survey last month of people age 56 to 75, nearly half of those currently employed are now uncertain about the timing of their retirement.

Due to the extreme volatility in the equities markets, nearly one-quarter of survey respondents who are still working now plan to retire later than they had planned because they need to compensate for losses in their investment portfolios (17%). Another quarter are simply unsure how the current economic circumstances will impact their decision to retire.

In addition, only one third of all survey respondents are very confident that they will have the income to cover all of their expenses in retirement. Even more revealing is that of the 66% who are confident, the reasons for their confidence include: they expect Social Security to cover a portion of their expenses, they have saved enough money, have a pension, have a good plan in place, or have an annuity.

By comparison, those who are not confident that they will have the income to cover all of their expenses in retirement are most worried about their losses in the stock market, followed by not knowing how much their health care and prescriptions will cost, and uncertainty that Social Security will cover enough of their expenses—concerns that suggest the absence of a real retirement income plan.

This disparity in confidence, as well the significant percentage of Americans who have put their retirement on hold, underscores the essential need for retirement income planning. A separate survey commissioned earlier by the Alliance found that nearly half (47%) of retired U.S. adults age 61 to 65 with $100,000 or more investable assets say they stopped working as the result of circumstances not fully within their control.

The truth is that both before and after retirement, life’s uncertainties place a premium on having protected lifetime income—that is, income that is guaranteed for the rest of your life. However, if you ask 50 financial advisors how they approach income planning with their clients, you will likely get 50 different opinions on how best to do it. I know because I regularly speak with financial advisors across the country on this very topic. However, despite their varied approaches, I’ve learned that they share several common principles:

1. Solve, don’t sell. These financial advisors have a process aimed at understanding a client’s retirement goals, including the quality of life each of them hopes to lead when they stop working. John Curry, CLU, ChFC, AEP, MSFS, CLTC is an advisor in North Florida and describes this essential first step as the “vision process.”

2. Run the numbers. Based on a client’s vision and goals for retirement, they calculate the cost of any essential expenses, from mortgage and utilities to groceries and health care. And, they also calculate the discretionary expenses such as travel, hobbies and dining out. John P. Schwan, CEO of the Schwan Financial Group in Aberdeen, SD, emphasizes the need to weigh the psychology, not only the economics, of retirement. Confidence in one’s retirement goals can have a significant impact on one’s quality of life in retirement.

3. Craft and, when needed, revise a plan. Because each client’s vision and goals are different, no two retirement plans are identical. In general, however, non-discretionary expenses are best covered with protected lifetime income from Social Security, pensions and annuities, whereas discretionary expenses are best covered by other products invested for growth and legacy. Briggs Matsko, a CFP, CRPC in Sacramento, CA, regularly advises clients to make any changes or updates based on life events and market turmoil.

In a March 2020 article published by Advisor Perspectives, Michael Finke explained why an investment-only solution to retirement income has huge problems. “We went from a 94% probability of success to 63% in just three weeks,” he says about coronavirus market meltdown—an outcome that explains why 75% of those who are not very confident or not at all confident that they will have the income to cover all of their expenses in retirement cite stock market losses as their primary concern. The fact is that protected income is often the most effective complement to equities, to help cover those basic expenses.

Protected lifetime income protects us from numerous retirement risks and is a need for millions of Americans, even when life goes according to plan. However, the sudden loss of a job, an illness or, for that matter, a global pandemic wakes us up to the fact that life doesn’t always go according to plan. Therefore, of the various functions performed by any financial planning professional, none is more important than income planning.

Tom Hegna is a senior education advisor for the Alliance for Lifetime Income. He has written five books on retirement and had a PBS TV Special “Don’t Worry, Retire Happy” that played in over 80 million homes in the U.S. and Canada.